Walter Reed tenants to get Internet access

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility

The Army has begun upgrading the information technology infrastructure at Walter Reed Army Medical Facility. Injured soldiers in the dilapidated outpatient residence known as Building 18 will soon receive Internet and cable television in their rooms as part of the renovations.

The new technology will allow recovering soldiers to access the Internet, take college courses online, talk with their families and access information on the Army Knowledge Online system.

The Defense Department is moving swiftly to fix Building 18 following high-profile visits to the facility by officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates. But plans for solving the rest of the problems facing patients there are still unclear.

The Washington Post first reported the sorry state of conditions at some residence buildings on or near the Walter Reed campus on Feb. 18. The articles also detailed soldiers’ and their families’ frustrations with pay, benefits and long-term care management.

On Feb. 22, the Army tasked Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the service’s chief information officer, with immediately upgrading Building 18. The Army’s Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS) assigned Hari Bezwada, director of its IT Systems project office, to take on the job. Bezwada led previous IT upgrades at Walter Reed and also leads the Pentagon’s IT renovation.

Fifty-four rooms in Building 18 will receive Internet and cable TV services at a cost of about $1 million, said Kevin Carroll, executive director of PEO-EIS. Wireless components are being installed this week and the rooms will be finished within 60 days.

But Building 18 is the only upgrade on the agenda, and the Army hasn’t directed PEO-EIS to work on any of the other problems outlined in the Post’s articles.

“Our bet is that there’ll probably be more coming,” Carroll said, adding that these upgrades could apply to various parts of the military medical community, not just Walter Reed. “It depends on the funding,” he said.

About a year ago, the Army installed thin-client computer terminals in rooms at two Walter Reed outpatient residences: Mologne House and Fisher House.

The Army chose the thin-client approach because it was cost-effective and easy to manage, Carroll said. All rooms and general-use areas were equipped. But although there were discussions about expanding the program to other medical facilities nationwide, “we just never got around to doing that,” he said.

Walter Reed is slated to be shut down as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. The entire facility will close by 2011, according to the BRAC schedule.

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