ARMY SECRETARY IS OUSTED IN FUROR
OVER HOSPITAL CARE
DAVID S. CLOUD
Published: March 3, 2007
March 2 — Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was forced to resign Friday over the handling of revelations that wounded
soldiers were receiving shabby and slow treatment at Walter
Reed Army Medical
Even as the
grim-faced defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, announced Mr. Harvey’s dismissal, the Army put a new general in charge
of the hospital, the second change of command in two days, and a clear signal that Mr. Gates wanted a clean break from the
the White House had announced that President Bush would appoint a bipartisan panel to examine the medical treatment provided
to wounded service members, both by the Defense Department and by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation,” Mr. Gates told
reporters. “Some have shown too much defensiveness and have not shown enough focus on digging into and addressing the
senior Pentagon official said Mr. Gates had demanded Mr. Harvey’s resignation because he was displeased that Mr. Harvey
on Thursday, in dismissing the commander of Walter Reed, temporarily named Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley to take command. General Kiley,
the Army’s top medical officer, had earlier appeared to play down the problems at Walter Reed, where he was in command
Gates’s aggressiveness in addressing the problem has surprised many Pentagon officials who are still getting used to
his style more than two months into his service.
by Mr. Gates to get an acceptable new commander in place by the end of the day, the Army announced late Friday that Maj. Gen.
Eric B. Schoomaker, a veteran Army doctor and the brother of the current Army chief of staff, would take over command at Walter
his weekly radio address, taped on Friday for broadcast on Saturday morning, Mr. Bush said, “This is unacceptable to
me, it is unacceptable to our country, and it’s not going to continue.” The White House released a transcript
without the usual embargo on its publication.
House officials said the review ordered by Mr. Bush would examine soldiers’ medical treatment starting when they were
wounded, as they were moved to Defense Department hospitals and as they received care in V.A. facilities after leaving the
White House commission seemed to overlap in at least some respects with a separate panel announced by Mr. Gates last week
that he said had authority to examine living conditions, problems getting prompt care and any other issues at Walter Reed
and other military-run hospitals the panel chose to examine.
said the White House commission was likely to undertake a broader review and take longer with its investigation than the Pentagon
panel, which has a 45-day deadline. Mr. Bush plans to name his commission’s members next week.
and Senate committees, too, are planning hearings on the matter next week. The House Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform said Friday that it was issuing a subpoena to Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who had been in command of the hospital
since last August before his firing on Thursday. The panel has scheduled a hearing at Walter Reed on Monday.
committee also made public an internal hospital memorandum written last September that warned that an Army decision to privatize
support services at Walter Reed was causing an exodus of experienced career personnel and putting patient care “at risk
of mission failure.”
scandal at Walter Reed is particularly embarrassing to the administration because many top officials have visited injured
troops there. Although Mr. Bush has visited Walter Reed several times, his spokesman, Tony Snow, said last month that the
president had learned about the situation from the newspaper and that he had given orders to “find out what the problem
is and fix it.”
officials have defended the treatment provided to most patients at Walter Reed, especially the most serious cases, those admitted
to inpatient wards on its campus a few miles from the center of Washington.
the administration has been unable to explain why adequate improvements at Walter Reed’s nearby satellite facilities
used to house outpatients were not made before the shoddy conditions were disclosed last month in a series of articles in
The Washington Post. And the furor is unlikely to abate soon.
Harvey, the senior civilian official overseeing the Army, joined the Pentagon in 2004 after a long career as an engineer working
mainly for defense contractors. He was an executive with the Westinghouse Corporation from 1969 to 1997.
a speech last year, he said improved efficiency could reduce both the federal work force and the number of contractors.
the House committee leaders said that at Walter Reed, hiring a contractor had resulted in a steep decline in the number of
support personnel like maintenance workers to fewer than 60 last month, from 300 in early 2006.
Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said that “didn’t help” efforts over the last year to improve conditions for
patients in Building 18, the dilapidated 50-room former hotel across the street from Walter Reed where outpatients are housed.
Before rushed renovations last month, the building had moldy walls, stained carpets and infestations of rats.
Reed officials have also acknowledged that the large number of wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, currently around 650 patients
and outpatients, has taxed doctors, nurses and other care providers and forced them to rely more heavily on overflow facilities.
Kiley, commander of Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004, left when he was appointed Army surgeon general. On a tour of the outpatient
facilities for reporters last month, he took issue with the way the conditions were portrayed in some accounts.
we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed,” he said. “I mean these
are not good, but you saw rooms that look perfectly acceptable, you saw the day rooms with the pool tables and plasma screen
TVs, and we’re working every day to make those rooms better.”
those comments and others did not please Mr. Gates, aides said. Even though he issued a statement Thursday endorsing the decision
to remove General Weightman, he was not aware that the Army had chosen General Kiley to be the acting commander, an appointment
that lasted just one day.
could have been almost anybody but Kiley,” said a senior Pentagon official, who was granted anonymity because he was
not authorized to discuss Mr. Gates’s thinking. Referring to General Kiley’s service as the hospital commander,
he added: “Some of this may well have developed and even started on his watch. And his comments also demonstrated a
Schoomaker, 58, the new commander, had been commander of the Army’s Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, Md. His brother, Gen.
Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, who is stepping down next month, was not involved in the decision to select
him, the senior Pentagon official said.
a visit to the outpatient facility last month before it was fixed up, Mr. Harvey called the conditions inexcusable. But he
went on to place the blame for the situation on noncommissioned officers.
had some N.C.O.’s who weren’t doing their job, period,” Mr. Harvey said.