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New York Times said:General Is Fired Over Conditions at Walter Reed
By DAVID S. CLOUD
Published: March 2, 2007
WASHINGTON, March 1 â The two-star general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center was relieved of command on Thursday, following disclosures that wounded soldiers 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 fired because Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey âhad lost trust and confidenceâ 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 Armyâs 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 hospitalâs 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 for treatment.
Officials refused to provide the specific reasons for General Weightmanâs 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 brain injuries.
Mr. Harvey told reporters Thursday that the Army was also examining conditions at other medical facilities, both in the United States and abroad. âWeâll fix as we find things wrong,â he said.
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.
âThe 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,â he said. âWhen this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command.â
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 rules.
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 Armyâs top medical officer.
A 1973 graduate of the United States Military Academy, General Kiley 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 âland component command surgeonâ 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.
âThe family members get a little frustrated because, I mean, we are really disrupting their lives,â 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 active duty.
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