- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2007


Substandard living conditions found at the Army’s flagship veterans hospital likely exist throughout the military health care system, the head of a House panel investigating Walter Reed Army Medical Center said yesterday.

Rep. John F. Tierney, Massachusetts Democrat, said he is afraid “these problems go well beyond the walls of Walter Reed,” adding that “as we send more and more troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, these problems are only going to get worse, not better.”

A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing yesterday at the hospital brought a wide range of apologies from top-level Army officers and the Army’s No. 2 civilian. “We have let some soldiers down,” said Peter Geren, the undersecretary of the Army.

Mr. Tierney, chairman of the panel, questioned whether problems at the facility are “just another horrific consequence” of inadequate planning that went into war in Iraq, a problem created by contracting out work there to private business or some other cause.

“This is absolutely the wrong way to treat our troops, and serious reforms need to happen … immediately,” he said.

Mr. Geren, who will become acting Army secretary later this week, told the panel that the revelations of poor conditions at Walter Reed had hurt the Army. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign last week.

Two former commanders at the facility said they accepted responsibility for the failures.

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander of Walter Reed from August until he was fired last week said: “You can’t fail one of these soldiers … not one. And we did.”

Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, Army surgeon general and head of Walter Reed until 2004, apologized for what he called housing conditions that did “not meet our standards.” He said renovations were under way.

He also said a team had been sent to some 11 other installations across the country to make sure there are not similar housing problems.

Lawmakers listened closely as several patients came to the hearing with stories of lax or poor treatment at Walter Reed:

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, who lost his left eye and suffered traumatic brain injuries from a rifle wound, said that after he was discharged from Walter Reed, he was given a map of the grounds and eventually found his way to outpatient quarters by wandering around and asking for directions.

Then, he said, he “sat in my room for a couple of weeks wondering when someone would contact” him about continuing treatment.

“My biggest concern is having young men and women who have had their lives shattered in service to their country … get taken care of,” Sgt. Shannon said.

Gen. Weightman said several systems set up to monitor patient complaints and opinions had failed to uncover the problems. An anonymous survey at the end of January, for instance, showed patient satisfaction with case workers and physicians at 90 percent, he said.

The controversy started last month with a series of stories in The Washington Post, but lawmakers said reports of the failures go back several years.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said that in addition to several government audits, there was a February 2005 Salon magazine story on poor conditions at the hospital’s psychiatric ward; a 2006 report on problems screening people with brain injuries, and a 2005 think-tank report criticizing the complex-disability program.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide