Walter Reed tenants to get Internet access

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 TV in their rooms as part of the building's renovations.

The sorry state of conditions at some residence buildings on or near the Walter Reed campus was publicized recently in a series of articles in the Washington Post. Those articles also detailed frustrations of soldier and families with pay, benefits, and management of their long term care.

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

On February 22, the Army tasked Lt. Gen Steven Boutelle, CIO G-6, to immediately begin upgrading Building 18. The Army's Program Executive Office- Enterprise Information Systems 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 current Pentagon IT renovation.

54 rooms in Building 18 will receive internet and cable TV services, which will cost 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 they'll probably be more coming,' said Carroll, adding that these upgrades could apply to various parts of the military medical community, not just at 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, the Monroe House and Fisher House. This allowed recovering soldiers to access the internet, take college-courses online, talk with their families, and access information found on the Army Knowledge Online system.

The thin client approach was chosen because it was cost effective and easy to manage, said Carroll. Every room as well as general use areas were equipped. But although there were discussions about expanding the program to other medical facilities across the country, 'we just never got around to doing that,' he said.

Ironically, 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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