Walter Reed cancer center named for John Murtha

Former Congressman made it his mission to ensure troops and their families had good medical care

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BETHESDA, Md. -- The comprehensive cancer center at Walter Reed Bethesda has spacious hallways, the newest treatments available and 330 of the most highly trained military and civilian medical personnel. And now it also has a name.

Military brass and congressional leaders came together Monday to name the 74,000-square-foot center after John P. Murtha, the powerful former congressman from Johnstown who died two years ago.

As a retired Marine Corps colonel and chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Murtha had made it his mission to ensure troops and their families had good medical care, speakers at the ceremony said. He was particularly interested in ensuring availability of cancer screenings for women, so it seemed fitting that the hallway ceremony was conducted beneath a sign pointing the way to the "Gynecologic Cancer Center of Excellence" on a third floor hospital hallway.

More than 250 people attended, including members of Congress, patients, cancer center staff and Murtha family members who came to honor the former congressman.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., though, turned the focus on the Murtha's widow, Joyce.

Mrs. Murtha's calmness and dignity helped her husband achieve great things for the country, Ms. Pelosi said.

Mrs. Murtha said her husband always tried to ensure troops had enough equipment, training and medical care and that he always felt that more could be done to help them.

"Providing funding for cancer research was one of the ways he felt he could do that," she said.

Col. Craig Shriver, director of the new John P. Murtha Cancer Center, said the new center sends a message to troops: "When the nation needed you, you were there. When you need the nation, we'll be there too."

During the ceremony, injured troops, many missing limbs, made their way to medical appointments and physical therapy sessions on other parts of the sprawling medical campus.

The cancer center was conceived as part of the Pentagon's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Program, which consolidated all Army, Navy and Air Force health care assets in the Washington, D.C. region.

Col. Shriver said the consolidation is cost-effective and provides patients with more efficient access to a spectrum of care from military's top cancer physicians all in one place. The center offers cancer treatments along with preventative care and support services such genetic, psychological and nutritional counseling.

Murtha served 36 years in Congress before he died of complications from gallbladder surgery at age 77.

"Chairman Murtha would have been thrilled to see this cutting-edge cancer center," said Alton L. Stocks, commander of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Military brass and congressional leaders came together Monday to name the 74,000-square-foot comprehensive cancer center at Walter Reed Bethesda, Md., after John P. Murtha, the powerful former congressman from Johnstown who died two years ago.

Story, Page B-3.

region - health

Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292.


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