BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- The future of military medicine began a new era July 3 in Bethesda, as President George W. Bush helped break ground for construction of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The new medical center comes as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process to create an integrated state-of-the-art medical facility for military members.
Both the National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center will combine to treat and care for service members and their families. The hospital will provide services for a variety of needs - from routine medical appointments to highly unique specialties
The facility will also serve as the military's premier facility for treating service members wounded in the Global War on Terrorism.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said the future medical facility will provide service members with the care they need and deserve. Families of those injured in combat are important to the recovery process, he said, and can now rest assure their loved ones will receive the best possible care available.
"Our warriors are our country's most important resource and when they return injured of ill from war, we must care for them without fail," England said. "Those who have earned our freedoms for us are guaranteed the best care and benefits."
Bush turned the shovel just as another president did nearly 69 years ago to the day. President Franklin Roosevelt and other officials began the initial construction June 29, 1939.
Bush said he was proud of the steps military medicine has taken to ensure the treatment and care of the wounded remains paramount during a time of conflict. The future center will be host to a variety of remarkable health care advancements and research, he said.
"I'm so honored to be here... for what is a grand occasion, the breaking of ground of a new joint medical facility for the men and women of our armed forces," Bush said. "With this new center wounds will be healed, medical knowledge will be advanced, lives will be rebuilt and those who wear our nation's uniform will be reminded they have the enduring attitude of the American people."
Bush said the caregivers treating those injured in combat are essential to the overall mission of the U.S. in the war on terrorism. Treating the wounded is not always as easy as it sounds, he said, as specialty care is also a big part of the healing process.
"Our nation is engaged in very different battle for our freedom, yet our success still relies on these anonymous heroes, the healers who care for the troops," Bush said. "Giving our troops the care they deserve requires cutting edge medical facilities and that's what this new facility will provide."
Bush recognized Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott Lilley, who had been critically injured in Iraq, on his recovery and the care he received at the National Naval Medical Center. He recalled meeting Lilley in the Oval Office not long after his injury and the president said he didn't think the Airman would survive. Lilley's strength, determination and his health care provider's aggressive treatment, however, were vital to his recovery, Bush said.
"Thanks to the extraordinary care at Bethesda, as well as his own, he is now back on active duty," Bush said. "Their perseverance has paid off and so has his. Our wounded warriors show why the human body is fragile, the human spirit is strong."
Lilley said he was honored to have Bush mention his recovery during his speech. He said combining the medical expertise from National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center will form an unparalleled hospital.
"Having the president here and mentioning me like he did, that's something not everyone gets the chance to have," Lilley said. "I think it's a good thing because it will bring all the doctors closer together."
"This is a great ground-breaking," said Marine Capt. Ray Baronie, Wounded Warrior Battalion's executive officer. "It makes me feel good that Marines and Sailors can go over into harm's way and know there is going to be a state-of-the-art facility for them to be able to come back to [if injured]."
Joint Task Force National Capital Region - Medical Commander Rear Adm. John Mateczun said the new facility will mirror the existing buildings around the hospital to preserve the history and image of the original construction. The new facility will be home to some of the best care in the world, he said.
"The exterior design of the medical center will be keeping with President Franklin Roosevelt's vision of what the nation's premier military medical center should look like," Mateczun said. "While the walls on the outside reflect the medical center's historic significance, the inside will house the most state of art medical resources in the world."
Following the ground-breaking ceremony, Bush visited wounded service members in Bethesda's Intensive Care Unit and 5 East Surgical Ward. He met with more than a dozen patients and their families. Similar to his first meeting with Lilley, Bush saw more remarkable recoveries and the latest in medical advancements during his rounds on the wards.
"When Bethesda and Walter Reed merge, this will be the site of many more promising breakthroughs that will not only benefit our troops, but all mankind," Bush said.
For more news from National Naval Medical Center, visit www.navy.mil/local/nnmc/.