Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Much of National Guard Not Combat-Ready

More than two-thirds of the Army National Guard's 34 brigades are not combat-ready, largely because of equipment shortfalls that will take as much as $21 billion to correct, the top National Guard general said yesterday.

The comments by Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum came after disclosures by Army officials, analysts and members of Congress that two-thirds of the active Army's brigades are not rated ready for war.

The problem, they say, is driven by budget constraints that will not allow the military to complete the personnel training, and by repairs and replacement of equipment that must be done when units return after deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I am further behind or in an even more dire situation than the active Army, but we both have the same symptoms -- I just have a higher fever," Blum said.

One Army official acknowledged that though all active Army units serving in the war zone are "100 percent" ready, the situation is not the same for those at home.

Medicare to Cut Money For Heart Procedures

Hospitals that specialize in heart procedures will get 5 percent less from Medicare by fiscal 2007, the federal health program said in announcing the biggest overhaul in 23 years of the way it pays medical centers.

Medicare said medical centers will get $3.4 billion more in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1; payments for operating expenses will increase 3.4 percent. Medicare helps pay for treatment for 43 million elderly and disabled Americans, at 3,500 U.S. hospitals.

Medicare is trying to end incentives caused by excessive payments for doctors and hospitals to focus on services such as surgery and radiology, at the expense of routine care. Medicare said last month that the overhaul is part of its effort to use tax dollars more efficiently. Spending by the program may more than double -- to $677 billion -- by 2013, government figures show.

After Physical, Bush Is Called 'Fit for Duty'

President Bush's doctors pronounced him healthy and in better shape than most men his age yesterday after his annual physical.

Doctors treated a small precancerous lesion on his left arm but indicated it was nothing serious.

The doctors who examined Bush, 60, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda said in a written statement that they found him "fit for duty and have every reasonable expectation that he will remain fit for duty for the duration of his presidency."

The scale showed Bush at 196 pounds; he was 191.6 pounds at his exam last July. The physical also found the president shorter by a quarter-inch, at 5 feet 11 1/2 inches.

Judge Backs Bush on Building Forest Roads

The Bush administration had the right to overturn a ban on road construction in untouched parts of national forests but may have needed to consider environmental effects at the same time, a federal judge said in San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte said the Forest Service appeared to be "on solid ground" last year when it reversed a Clinton administration rule banning new roads on nearly a third of federal forests.

But she questioned whether the agency violated federal law by skipping environmental studies -- the heart of lawsuits brought by 20 environmental groups and four states.

-- From News Services

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