WASHINGTON April 11 —
One of the grimmest consequences for a president who wages war is
coming face-to-face with men and women he sent into battle and who
On Friday, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were to spend
about three hours at two Washington-area military hospitals visiting
the bedsides of U.S. troops wounded during the war in Iraq.
They were heading to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in northwest
Washington and to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda,
Md., with battlefield successes multiplying and Saddam Hussein's
regime in tatters.
However, the war is in its fourth week with no sign the Bush
administration was ready to declare it over.
Bush was to talk with Army soldiers sent stateside for treatment
at Walter Reed and the Marines and sailors being cared for at the
Naval Medical Center.
The president planned to visit 40 patients at Walter Reed, a
dozen of whom he will honor with Purple Hearts. At the Naval Medical
Center, the president will visit 33 patients, award four Purple
Hearts and stand witness as two wounded Marines become U.S.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the president
views the afternoon "as a time to honor men and women who have been
injured so that Iraqi people could have freedom."
On Saturday, rescued POW Jessica Lynch is to leave a U.S military
hospital in Germany and fly to Washington for further treatment at
Lynch, a 19-year-old private first class from Palestine, W.Va.,
has spent the last week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in
western Germany being treated for a head wound, an injury to her
spine and fractures to her right arm, both legs and her right foot
As of Thursday, the Pentagon's count of Americans wounded in
action in Iraq stood at 343. Another 105 have died, the Defense
Department said, while 11 are missing and seven captured.
There has been no tally of the Iraqi military's dead and wounded,
either from the coalition or from the Iraqi government. Iraq has
said that nearly 600 civilians have been killed and more than 4,000
wounded since the war began.
The visits have become emotionally wrenching rituals of Bush's
presidency that visibly wear on him.
"I know that every order I give can bring a cost," Bush said in a
somber January address to soldiers at Ford Hood, Texas, while he was
still contemplating war.
Later in January, Bush went room-to-room at Walter Reed visiting
five soldiers badly injured in Afghanistan, emerging with tears in
his eyes. Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the
president and first lady went to Washington Hospital Center to see
11 military and civilian workers critically burned in the Pentagon
attack. Separately, Mrs. Bush appeared at Walter Reed on her own to
see soldiers injured in the same attack.
Some Democrats have called the events hypocritical, because Bush
has proposed some cuts in the VA health care system.
That health care system was opened by a 1996 law to almost all
veterans, and now serves millions more than its traditional clients
low-income veterans with service-connected diseases and injuries.
Bush administration VA officials have said the cuts are needed to
preserve the care for those traditional VA patients, whose number is
expected to rise with casualties from the Iraq war.
Bush proposed a 7.7 percent increase, to $27.5 billion, for
veterans' medical care in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, but
included fee increases and limits on access, which are unpopular
Bush's budget also proposed charging veterans who earn about
$24,000 a year or more an annual enrollment fee of $250. And it
proposed increasing copayments for higher-income patients, from $15
to $20 for outpatient primary care and $7 to $15 for prescription
And to the disapproval of many veterans' groups, the Veterans
Affairs Department in January suspended through 2003 all new
enrollments by higher-income veterans to the health care system, a
move expected to affect about 164,000 veterans.
After the hospital stops, Bush was flying to the Camp David
presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains, where he has spent
every weekend since the war started March 19.
On Friday morning, Bush called President Gloria Macapagal of the
Philippines to discuss developments in Iraq and express appreciation
for the Philippines' commitment to provide post-conflict assistance.
The two leaders also discussed developments in the war on terror in
the Philippines, Fleischer said. The president also spoke on the
phone with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has
supported the coalition's war against Iraq.
|President Bush smiles during his
meeting with President of the Slovak Republic Rudolf Schuster
in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, April 9,
2003, in Washington. Bush will talk about the country's
contribution of a team of weapons of mass destruction experts
to the Iraq campaign and other issues. (AP Photo/Pablo
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