Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center yesterday, one year after dedicating the facility that absorbed the Walter Reed Army Hospital from its previous location in Silver Spring.
In a speech, Panetta thanked doctors and nurses for coming together to care for the many wounded veterans on campus, according to the Defense Department.
“I want to thank you for your leadership, because what you have here is a world-class center for healing, for compassion, and for empowerment,” Panetta said.
Nearly 4,000 employees have moved to the Naval Hospital Bethesda base after 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) mandated Walter Reed merge onto the Wisconsin Avenue campus. The original estimate was 2,500, a discrepancy nearby residents and some local officials say has contributed to a major traffic mess.
“When you move Walter Reed, you don’t necessarily get that corresponding benefit that you’d normally get if you’re bringing in 1,200 jobs from somewhere else, say from New Jersey,” County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said in an October interview. “That means those people are going to move, buy a house and now become new taxpayers. Walter Reed, because it was only a few miles away, you don’t get people moving from other places. You get the traffic, but you don’t get all the corresponding other things that come with that.”
Recent expansion plans on both the Walter Reed campus and at the neighboring National Institutes of Health have again put neighbors on notice. Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) estimates 270 additional workers on the Walter Reed campus. NIH’s master plan calls for as many as 3,000 more employees over 20 years.
That means the No. 1 and No. 2 largest employers in Montgomery County, which sit across six lanes of traffic coming and going from downtown Bethesda, will only grow.
To assuage local fears and to make crossing Wisconsin Avenue from the Medical Center Metro station easier for Walter Reed patients and workers, the state’s Congressional delegation this year dedicated a rare BRAC project outside the base walls.
Senators Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D), as well as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) touted federal funding for a Wisconsin Avenue Metro tunnel that would making crossing the street safer and ease traffic issues.
“We believe in the mission of these two agencies and we thank our local community for your patience during this difficult time,” Mikulski said at a September press event. “But at the end of the day, we’re gonna have more jobs, better healthcare, honor our promises to our veterans but also our promises to our country of the great innovation that goes on here.”