Rep. Slaughter Writes to Secretary Gates on Walter Reed

February 20, 2007
Blog
On Sunday, the Washington Post published a groundbreaking and tragic report on conditions at Building 18 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which houses physically and psychologically damaged outpatients.

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility

Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post - February 18, 2007

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Monday the Post followed up, reporting that Walter Reed has launched a criminal investigation into Michael J. Wagner, who worked there until recently heading up the Medical Family Assistance Center.

Rep. Slaughter sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on these issues:

The Honorable Robert Gates

Secretary

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Gates,

I urge you to explain why the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, once the crown-jewel of military medicine, has become a bleak and frustrating place for our wounded soldiers to recover, and what the Army intends to do to restore the integrity of its medical system.

This weekend's Washington Post series revealing the "other Walter Reed" was stunning. It painted a picture of abhorrent living conditions and a bureaucratic nightmare for our wounded soldiers in outpatient care. In striking detail, the series described how one of the outpatient facilities, Building 18, is marked by rodent infestation, mold problems, and crumbling ceilings. As if the facilities were not bad enough, wounded soldiers and their families must wrestle daily with an Army bureaucracy ill-equipped to provide them with the attention and care they need. Wounded soldiers are often left on their own to make and keep appointments, and fill out the 22 documents needed to enter and exit the Army's medical system.

The living conditions and bureaucratic battles frustrate and demoralize our wounded soldiers. Marine Sergeant Ryan Groves said it best, "We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it." Our wounded soldiers have made incredible sacrifices on behalf of the nation, and deserve the very best care throughout their recovery. The conditions at Walter Read are unacceptable, and an affront to our men and women in uniform.

I am encouraged to read in today's Washington Post that the facility's commander, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, has announced new repairs at Building 18, and a review of the Army's entire mission at Walter Reed. However, these improvements are long-overdue and I cannot help but think that they would not have begun at all had the Washington Post not blown the whistle.

The Washington Post's series is a major black-eye and an embarrassment for the Army and the United States. I would like a full explanation of how the conditions became so dire at Walter Reed in the first place, and what steps the Army plans to take to immediately rectify the situation. Please know that I stand ready to help provide the Defense Department with the resources it needs to adequately care for our wounded soldiers. I await your prompt response to this inquiry. Should you have any questions, please call me or Alan Snyder of my staff at (202) 225-3615.

Sincerely,

Louise M. Slaughter