Walter Reed clarifies policy on donations to patients
WASHINGTON — Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials said they aren’t blocking charitable donations from reaching patients there, despite news reports saying gifts over $20 are being refused by hospital staff.
Earlier this week, the wife of Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., sent a letter to President Bush and Defense Department officials saying she was “nauseated” by reports that Walter Reed officials had warned charities that their donations to wounded troops could violate federal law.
At issue are rules governing gifts to federal employees, which prohibit companies who do business or wish to do business with government agencies from giving anything that could be construed as a bribe. In general, items over $20 are a violation of the rules.
“To suggest that troops could face discipline (for the gifts), from a warning to a court-martial at their commanders’ discretion, is disgusting,” wrote Beverly Young.
But Ann Johnson, spokeswoman for Walter Reed, said the medical center has not made any recent policy changes and has not been refusing donations for troops recovering there.
Officials recently had a meeting with several charitable organizations to review their plans for the holiday season and review Walter Reed’s procedures for handling donations, which is to filter them through the center’s Family Assistance Center for a legal review.
Defense Department officials said the $20 federal limit applies only to companies with government related business interests, not military-focused charities like the ones that have appeared in the last few years.
So a gift such as direct cash handouts to troops from a company like Boeing, which has contracts worth billions with the Defense Department, would be prohibited under the rules.
But DVDs, T-shirts or homemade cookies sent by a nonprofit charity to the hospital — or to troops serving overseas — wouldn’t cause any problems with the current regulation.
Johnson said the assistance center’s review usually only takes a day or two, and also allows officials a chance to decide how to use or distribute the gifts.
Still, officials at Young’s office said Friday that the confusion over acceptable gifts warrants a study, as does the Army’s policy to review all donations regardless of their source. His aides are looking into possible legislative action to clear up any loopholes which could block or slow legitimate donations.