House panel criticizes Walter Reed oversight
WASHINGTON — Army medical officials told Congress on Monday they’re moving quickly to renovate and repair substandard patient rooms at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but acknowledged a “failure of leadership” in not recognizing the problem sooner.
But members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee blasted the Army leaders and hospital administrators for reacting too slowly to problems facing wounded soldiers.
“You’ve had people falling through the cracks,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., at a hearing at the Walter Reed campus. “These are systemic problems, and this recent manifestation shouldn’t surprise anybody.”
Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, surgeon general for the Army, said Walter Reed staff are now dealing with many of the “bricks and mortar” issues brought up in a recent Washington Post series chronicling problems at the medical center.
But the committee also heard from wounded soldiers who said patients face a bureaucratic nightmare with completing disability paperwork, scheduling meetings with counselors and getting all the medical treatments they need.
Army officials have been fielding questions about the hospital campus on Capitol Hill for the past week, and at least three other Congressional committees will hold hearings this week focused solely on Walter Reed.
In addition, the newly formed House Armed Services oversight subcommittee will announce Tuesday a full investigation into Walter Reed and the overall issue of military medical care.
Both the president and defense secretary have announced commissions to look into conditions on the campus, separate from those Congressional efforts. On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the Department of Defense to appoint an independent commission to and recommend improvements to the entire defense health system.
Schumer suggested that retired Army general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell head such a commission.
Defense undersecretary Pete Geren, who will take over as acting secretary of the Army next week, said defense officials instructed him to begin working on the Walter Reed issue over the weekend to start making improvements.
“We have let some soldiers down,” he said at Monday’s hearing at Walter Reed. “Working with Congress, we’re going to fix that problem.”
Several low-level hospital administrators have been removed from posts at Walter Reed, and last week both the medical center’s commander, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, and Army Secretary Francis Harvey stepped down from their jobs in the wake of the scandal.
At Monday’s hearing, Weightman told members of Congress that keeping track of the large number of patients and rooms at the medical campus was not a good excuse for overlooking patients’ complaints about malfunctioning plumbing, moldy walls and other potentially unhealthy living conditions.
“Obviously we missed the big picture,” he said. “We did not see where some of these soldier-patients were living, and we should have.
“We can’t fail one of these soldiers, and we did.”