Army Hospital Commander Gets Fired For Poor Outpatient Care
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 were living in dilapidated quarters and enduring long waits for treatment.
Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, a physician and a graduate of West Point, was fired because Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey "had lost trust and confidence" 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 Army's best known and busiest centers for treating 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 mold on the walls, stained carpets and other problems.
A series of disclosures published prominently in the Washington Post about the living conditions, the red tape that ensnarled 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 hospital's 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 strained 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 Weightman's dismissal.
Treatment of wounded soldiers also has been spotlighted recently in a documentary recounting the treatment received by the former ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff, who was wounded in Iraq last year. Woodruff contrasted his care with that of soldiers, finding that Veterans Administration regional medical centers provide retired soldiers with good care but that local VA hospitals are less skilled at dealing with complex problems like traumatic brain injuries.
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 takes too long in many cases and have promised to make changes in 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.
Harvey told reporters Thursday that the Army was also examining conditions at other medical facilities, both in the United States and abroad. "We'll fix as we find things wrong," Harvey said.