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Originally published April 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 25, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Bush orders action on veterans' care

President Bush Tuesday night ordered the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to come up with a joint process for establishing the...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- President Bush Tuesday night ordered the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to come up with a joint process for establishing the level of disability of injured service members, as well as to implement other recommendations from a presidential task force.

Those recommendations are intended to "streamline" the care and benefits given to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, who chaired the task force.

The group also suggested that all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans treated in VA health-care facilities be screened for traumatic brain injury, which Nicholson called "one of the signature injuries" of the conflicts.

Bush said in a statement released by the White House that he has directed Nicholson to report within 45 days on how the recommendations are being put into place.

Nicholson said Tuesday afternoon that the VA and Pentagon must work to prevent injured service members from falling into bureaucratic crevices during their transition from military hospitals to veterans facilities. Computerized systems are being improved to better track veterans, he said.

"If we can track a package in this country and know where it is at any given time, we certainly should be able to track a human being," Nicholson said in announcing the task force findings at the National Press Club.

Blaming backlogs on "improved outreach," Nicholson said he also has requested money to hire more staff to help reduce the time spent processing benefit claims to 125 days from the current average of 177 days.

Nicholson's task force, which included officials from eight government agencies, was established March 6 by Bush in response to reports of problems in the long-term care given to injured troops and veterans. The task force looked at ways to fix the system "without new laws or new money," Nicholson said.

A separate presidential commission, chaired by former senator Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton, is looking at longer-term solutions. The panel is expected to issue its report in late July.

Bush said that he has asked Nicholson to "exchange ideas and information" with the Dole-Shalala commission in order to "efficiently advance reform efforts."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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