GENERAL FIRED OVER CONDITIONS AT WALTER REED
By DAVID S.
March 2, 2007
WASHINGTON, March 2 — President Bush has ordered a top-to-bottom investigation into the medical care available
to returning veterans, the White House said today, a day after the firing of the two-star general in charge of Walter Reed
Army Medical Center over shabby conditions there.
In his regular Saturday radio address this week, the president
will say he intends to name a bipartisan commission to conduct “a comprehensive review of care that America is providing
our wounded servicemen and women,” a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said today.
“The review will examine
their treatment from the time they leave the battlefield through their return to civilian life as veterans, so we can assure
we are meeting their physical and mental health needs,” Ms. Perino said.
The president will announce
the members of the bipartisan commission in the next several days, Ms. Perino said. She said Mr. Bush would reflect in his
Saturday address on his “solemn experiences” visiting men and women recovering from wounds suffered in battle.
The general in charge of the
Walter Reed hospital was relieved of his command on Thursday following disclosures that wounded soldiers who were being treated
as outpatients there were living in dilapidated quarters and enduring long waits for treatment.
The officer, Maj. Gen. George
W. Weightman, a physician and a graduate of West Point, was removed from command because Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey
“had lost trust and confidence” in his ability to make improvements in outpatient care at Walter Reed, the Army
said in a brief statement.
The revelations about conditions
at the hospital, one of the Army’s best-known and busiest centers for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, have
embarrassed the Army and prompted two investigations, several Congressional inquiries and a rush to clean up the accommodations
for outpatients, where residents lived with moldy walls, stained carpets and other problems.
A series of disclosures published
prominently in The Washington Post about the living conditions, the red tape ensnarling treatment and other serious problems
have challenged the notion promoted for years by the Army, especially since the war in Iraq, that wounded soldiers receive
unparalleled care at Walter Reed.
Army officials have defended
the treatment provided to most patients at Walter Reed, especially the most serious cases, those admitted to inpatient wards
on the hospital’s campus a few miles from the center of Washington.
But they have acknowledged that
the large number of wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, currently around 650 patients, has taxed doctors, nurses and other
care providers and forced them to rely more heavily on overflow facilities to house outpatients who must remain near the hospital
Officials refused to provide
the specific reasons for General Weightman’s firing.
The Army has admitted in recent
weeks that the system it uses to decide whether wounded soldiers who have been moved to outpatient status will be able to
return to active duty often takes too long and has promised to change the system. At Walter Reed the process has taken an
average of over 200 days, a source of frustration to soldiers and families who are awaiting decisions about what benefits
they will receive if they retire.
Treatment of wounded soldiers
has also been spotlighted recently in a documentary recounting the treatment received by the ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff,
who was wounded in Iraq last year. Mr.
Woodruff contrasted his care with that of soldiers, finding that Veterans Administration regional medical centers provide
retired soldiers with good care but that local V.A. hospitals are less skilled at dealing with complex problems like traumatic
Mr. Harvey told reporters Thursday
that the Army was also examining conditions at other medical facilities, both in the United States and abroad. “We’ll fix as we find things wrong,”
Paralleling the Army effort,
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appointed a panel last week to examine conditions at Walter Reed and other Defense Department
hospitals it chooses, including the Naval Medical
Center in Bethesda, Md.
Mr. Gates endorsed the decision
to relieve General Weightman in a statement Thursday.
“The care and welfare
of our wounded men and women in uniform demand the highest standard of excellence and commitment that we can muster as a government,”
he said. “When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate,
accountability up the chain of command.”
Mr. Gates had signaled earlier,
after a visit to Walter Reed, that senior officials would probably be relieved of command.
A Pentagon official said that,
in addition to General Weightman, a captain, two noncommissioned officers, and an enlisted soldier involved in outpatient
treatment were being reassigned. He said he could not provide further information because of Defense Department confidentiality
General Weightman assumed command
of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical
Center on August 25, 2006. He oversees medical facilities in seven other
states in addition to Walter Reed and is one of the most senior officers to be relieved in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He could not be reached for comment.
The Army said that command of
Walter Reed would be taken over temporarily by Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army’s top medical officer.
A 1973 graduate of the United States Military Academy,
General Weightman received a medical degree in 1982 from the University of Vermont and has held a series of medical commands in the past two decades, including “land
component command surgeon” during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In comments to reporters on
Feb. 16, just before the first of a series of articles was published by The Post, General Weightman conceded that there were
problems with outpatient care at Walter Reed, but said that improvements were being made.
“The family members get
a little frustrated because, I mean, we are really disrupting their lives,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
In the last year, General Weightman
said, Walter Reed had increased to 17 from 4 the number of caseworkers charged with helping outpatients with the paperwork
and other requirements of the patient disability evaluation system, which determines whether soldiers can remain in the military
or retire with full benefits.
He said that the process often
took months or years at Walter Reed because the hospital handled some of the most complex medical cases, involving head trauma
and other conditions that made gauging recovery difficult.
Outpatients at Walter Reed have
received initial treatment but require further care or rehabilitation before retiring from the armed forces or returning to
Addressing reports that recovering
soldiers were asked to attend daily inspection, even when under medication, Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, said that there
would be periodic inspections in the outpatient facilities. Mr. Boyce added that soldiers who are able were asked to attend
a daily morning meeting where treatment options and other information were discussed but that the sessions were not inspections.
Mr. Boyce said the worst conditions
in the outpatient residences had been corrected but added the Army was planning to make more repairs, like replacing a faulty
heating and air-conditioning system that was the cause of the mold on the walls.