Firing at Walter Reed

March 2, 2007
General takes the fall for Army hospital's failures

Robert Burns, Associated Press - March 2, 2007

The general running Walter Reed Army Medical Center had been there six months when trouble arrived -- news reports about recovering soldiers languishing in dilapidated housing, their families complaining of inattentive administrators, followed by cries of outrage from members of Congress.

Heads had to roll, it appeared. At a time of growing public discontent with the Iraq war and with Democrats newly in charge of Congress, the embarrassments at Walter Reed seemed to magnify the claims of critics that the Bush administration is mismanaging the conflict and its costly human consequences.

On Thursday, the Army fired the commander, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman.

"The administration knew of problems at Walter Reed hospital for years, yet they did nothing," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "Firing Gen. George Weightman is a welcome step, but it doesn't change the fact that our injured troops are receiving inadequate medical care and facing bureaucratic nightmares."

Army Fires Commander of Walter Reed

Steve Vogel and William Branigin, Washington Post - March 2, 2007

The commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center was fired yesterday after the Army said it had lost trust and confidence in his leadership in the wake of a scandal over outpatient treatment of wounded troops at the Northwest Washington hospital complex.

Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who assumed command of Walter Reed in August, will be temporarily replaced by Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. But the appointment of Kiley, who had earlier been the facility's commander, surprised some Defense Department officials because soldiers, their families and veterans' advocates have complained that he had long been aware of problems at Walter Reed and did nothing to improve its outpatient care.

Rep. John Murtha, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and Rep. John Teirney, Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, will both hold hearings on this matter on Monday. Rep. Tierney will be holding a field hearing on location at Walter Reed.

UPDATE: From Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer:

"Members of Congress and the American people are deeply disappointed and justifiably concerned about the deplorable conditions that wounded American service men and women have been forced to endure upon returning from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who sustain life-altering injuries while answering our nation's highest calling deserve our full support and the best treatment that money can buy.

"Despite all of the Republicans' rhetoric about supporting our troops, it is clear that our government is failing the soldiers it is our solemn duty to protect. And recent news of the shockingly inadequate treatment offered at Walter Reed Medical Center - which in years past has provided a shining example of the quality care that America owes its wounded veterans - is proof positive that our government needs to step up and take immediate action to remedy a situation that is nothing short of a national embarrassment.

"I am encouraged to see that - for the first time since the Global War on Terror began - someone in government is being held accountable for mistakes that endanger our troops and damage our national security. By relieving Walter Reed's Commanding General this morning, the Department of Defense has taken an important first step, but there is still more work to be done in order to ensure that we care for our veterans properly.

"I am hopeful that in the coming weeks, the People's House will act on legislation introduced by Congressman Harry Mitchell that would "ensure dignity in care for members of the Armed Forces recovering from injuries." In my estimation, the United States Congress has a moral obligation to put this legislation on the President's desk as soon as possible.

"And I am also hopeful that Congress will not enact into law the massive cuts to veterans' health care called for in the President's budget submission. These cuts are reckless at worst and irresponsible at best, and they fail to reflect the priorities of a nation that is grateful for the sacrifices our soldiers make.

"America's fighting men and women, whether they are deployed in the field or recovering from injuries here at home, should always be able to count on the full support of their government. They have fulfilled their duties bravely and honorably - and they deserve nothing less than treatment and care that is commensurate with the heroic deeds they undertake."

UPDATE: From Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bob Filner:

"It is high time the Pentagon has admitted its mistake and taken action to improve outpatient care at Walter Reed. The removal of Army Major General George W. Weightman as the commander at Walter Reed is the first step in accepting responsibility for the treatment of our wounded soldiers.

"The events reported at Walter Reed were a break in faith with our troops. We must be able to rely on the chain of command in order to address the serious problems not only at Walter Reed, but at the military facilities across the country.

"My concerns are focused on how we serve our troops when they turn from the Pentagon to the VA for their healthcare. In order for our troops to experience the seamless transition they deserve, the bureaucratic problems that prevent many from getting the care they need must be fixed.

"I am committed to preventing similar situations to Walter Reed from striking the VA system. Clearly, we need an oversight and inspection system that is separate from the agency that is being overseen."