Military Hospitals Need Stronger Guidance on Presidential, VIP, and Officer Accommodations

HRD-79-61: Published: Apr 17, 1979. Publicly Released: Apr 17, 1979.

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In a 1974 report, GAO recommended that the Department of Defense (DOD) establish criteria for setting up and furnishing Presidential and other very important person (VIP) accommodations in military hospitals, and instruct the military departments to cease the segregation of officers and enlisted personnel in existing hospitals and planned facilities. General care nursing units in new hospitals will be one-bed, two-bed, or four-bed rooms; however, facilities planned before 1973, when these criteria were adopted, sometimes contain open bays with more than one bed. Persons eligible for free or very inexpensive health care at military medical facilities include the President and his family, active duty and retired members of the military and their dependents, retired enlisted members, and dependents of deceased members.

The Presidential suite at the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center is adequate, but similar facilities were included in the new Walter Reed Medical Center, for patients other than the President. The Bethesda suite contains 10 rooms, almost 4 times the space of the average U.S. single-family home. The Naval Regional Medical Center at Camp Pendleton, California, also contains a Presidential suite, now awaiting conversion to ordinary use, although its purpose is not considered by officials there as strictly Presidential. The present administration was unaware of this suite and regards such a facility in California as unnecessary. The Bethesda suite, despite being in the Washington, D.C., area, was only occupied for 7 days over a 22-month. It is only used by the Presidential family because of security precautions. Current Defense criteria for VIP accommodations do not offer much guidance as to who is entitled to VIP treatment, how many rooms to provide, or how to furnish and staff them. Consequently, these aspects vary widely among military hospitals. The chief rationale for VIP accommodations has been to allow high-ranking officials to continue to function officially while hospitalized, but that does not justify luxurious decoration and kitchen equipment. The Navy continues to segregate officers and enlisted men and give officers priority in the choice of private and semi-private rooms.

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