The Army’s chief medical officer promised senators on Wednesday that soldiers who publicly criticize care and conditions at military hospitals would not face retaliation.

The comments came during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, one of a number of hearings on problems with military medical care this week. The issue has been under focus on Capitol Hill since The Washington Post last week began a series on poor housing conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, said her staff has heard from a number of troops at Madigan Army Medical Center concerned about conditions there but reluctant to speak up.

“We can’t do our job unless we know exactly what’s happening out there,” Murray said. “I want your personal assurance today that any soldier who blows the whistle on substandard care will not be retaliated against.”

Kiley promised her exactly that.

“There’s a law that prevents that also, the whistle-blower law, and I share your concern that soldiers feel they can’t talk certainly to their representatives,” he said. “Certainly we want them to talk to us. But we’ve never put a prohibition or a threat of retaliation if they talk to the press.”

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that that assurance differed sharply with stories from patients and their families.

“We’ve all heard from families of these wounded soldiers about the fear they feel if they speak up,” said Stevens is quoted as saying. “We should be retaliating against people who put this fear in these people. It’s got to stop.”

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