Congressman describes conditions in Middle East, Germany hospitals

Adriana Colindres

A trip to Iraq, Kuwait and Germany last week reminded U.S. Rep. Phil Hare that this really is a small world.

The Rock Island Democrat, who represents the 17th Congressional District, was part of a delegation that made the Aug. 3-7 trip to assess the quality of medical care for U.S. troops. He met and spoke with several military personnel, as well as civilians.

At Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he encountered an Army captain who asked Hare if he is a congressman.

"I said I am," Hare said Monday at a State Capitol news conference. "I thought, ‘Uh oh, here we go.’ He said, ‘Well, my stepmother’s running for Congress in Illinois. Debbie Halvorson."

It turned out the Army captain was Jay Bush. Bush’s father, Jim, is married to Halvorson, a Crete Democrat who is the Illinois Senate majority leader.

Jay Bush, serving in Afghanistan, had been riding in a truck that came under fire at night, according to Hare. Ordered to evacuate, Bush jumped out of the side of the truck. He did not realize the vehicle was parked on a bridge, so he fell 25 feet, landing on rocks and injuring his spine.

"He is a wonderful young man," Hare said. "And God must have been looking out for him because to fall that far and have something like that happen and be able to probably, in all likelihood, be able to walk and use his arms and legs again, that will be a wonderful day for him."

When Hare returned to the United States on Thursday, he found a message on his cell phone from Halvorson. She was asking him to inquire about her stepson, if possible, and to contact Jim Bush with any information.

Hare called the elder Bush, told him he’d just seen Jay 12 hours earlier and reported that he was in good spirits.

Bush’s father and stepmother were heading to Washington, D.C., where Jay Bush now is being treated, Hare said.

Halvorson is a candidate for Congress in the 11th District, which is mostly in north-central Illinois but dips down to include part of McLean County. Also running for that seat are Republican Marty Ozinga and Jason Wallace of the Green Party.

Hare said he returned from the Middle East trip with a high regard for the medical care available to wounded troops.

"I will tell you, the hospitals that they have over there are equal to any hospital that we have here in terms of equipment, in terms of doctors and nurses, in terms of their ability," Hare said.

But still, there is room for improvement when it comes to meeting the health care needs of U.S. veterans, he said.

For instance, the process of getting medical records from the Department of Defense to the Veterans Administration should be streamlined, he said. In addition, soldiers should be screened more frequently for traumatic brain injuries.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.