New Leader Named for Army Hospital; Hearings Begin
Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker on Friday was named the new head of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, one day after Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley was named temporary chief, the Washington Post reports. In addition, Army Secretary Francis Harvey was fired by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to the Post (Abramowitz/Vogel, Washington Post, 3/3).
The Post last month published a two-part series that examined conditions at the military hospital. One article profiled the state of Building 18, which has mold, cockroaches and stained carpets, among other issues. The series also examined the process by which injured soldiers seek disability compensation.
Maj. Gen. George Weightman was fired as commander of Walter Reed last week because the Army said it had lost confidence in his leadership abilities. According to veterans groups and some members of Congress, top military officials including Kiley have known about problems at the facility since 2003 (American Health Line, 3/2).
Schoomaker previously was commander of the Army's Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, Md. His brother, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, is the Army chief of staff (Cloud, New York Times, 3/3).
A one-star general, who has yet to be identified, will work with Schoomaker to "bring a nonmedical eye to the operation," the Post reports.
In addition, Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, will appoint an infantry officer who recently served in Iraq to head the new "Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade" at Walter Reed. The unit will address outpatient problems at the facility (White/Vogel, Washington Post, 3/4).
President Bush has ordered the formation of a review panel to examine military and veteran hospitals nationwide. The White House said the president would name a bipartisan commission to address whether problems at Walter Reed existed at other military hospitals (Heilprin, Miami Herald, 3/5).
Bush in his weekly radio address on Saturday said, "Some of our troops at Walter Reed have experienced bureaucratic delays and living conditions that are less than they deserve. This is unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to our country and it's not going to continue."
He added, "As we work to improve conditions at Walter Reed, we're also taking steps to find out whether similar problems have occurred at other military and veterans hospitals" (Hutcheson/Adams, Miami Herald, 3/3).
Several congressional committees have announced intentions to hold hearings on the issue, and "outraged lawmakers [have] vowed quick action and called for an independent commission to examine poor conditions for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Herald reports.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's national security panel, chaired by John Tierney (D-N.Y.), has scheduled a hearing on Walter Reed for Monday morning.
The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee also on Monday has scheduled a hearing to examine conditions at Walter Reed (Miami Herald, 3/5).
In addition, the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on Walter Reed (Clemetson, New York Times, 3/5).
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday sent a letter to Gates requesting the creation of an independent commission -- possibly led by former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- to examine all post-combat medical facilities and to recommend changes where necessary.
Schumer wrote, "To think that men and women are serving their country in the most honorable and courageous way possible and all we give them is a dilapidated, rat-infested, run-down building to recover is a disgrace." He added, "My fear is that Walter Reed is just the tip of the iceberg, and merely highlights the pervasive and systematic mistreatment of our service members" (Miami Herald, 3/5).
Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said, "I welcome Congressional oversight, and the oversight of the president and the commission he is forming. I welcome them looking at us and taking a measure of how we are doing, so we can improve any deficiencies that are found."
Nicholson said the VA already is making changes, including implementing a program to screen all veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan for signs of brain trauma. He said the agency also is looking for ways to shorten the claims process (New York Times, 3/5).
In related news, the Washington Post on Monday examined how thousands of war veterans have communicated with the paper to describe "depressing living conditions for outpatients at other military bases around the country."
Interviews, reports from the Government Accountability Office and transcripts of congressional testimony have found less-than-satisfactory living conditions at outpatient military quarters besides Walter Reed. According to the Post, soldiers and veterans "report bureaucratic disarray similar to Walter Reed's: indifferent, untrained staff; lost paperwork; medical appointments that drop from the computers; and long waits for consultations." VA currently has a backlog of 400,000 benefit claims, many concerning mental health, according to the Post (Hull/Priest, Washington Post, 3/5).
Several broadcast programs reported on issues related to conditions at Walter Reed. Summaries appear below.
- ABC's "World News": The segment includes comments from Gates, Bush and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) (Karl, "World News," ABC, 3/2). Video of the segment is available online.
- ABC's "This Week": The program on Sunday included a discussion with Schumer and Sen. Trent Lott (D-Miss.) about Walter Reed (Stephanopoulos, "This Week," ABC, 3/4). Video of the segment is available online.
- CBS' "Face the Nation": The program on Sunday included a discussion with Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Sen. Joe Lieberman; and Anne Hull, one of the reporters who wrote the Washington Post series on condition at Walter Reed (Schieffer, "Face the Nation," CBS, 3/4). Video of the segment is available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Gates; Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; Kiley; and Steve Robinson of Veterans for America (Martin, "Evening News," CBS, 3/2). In addition, "Evening News" host Katie Couric discussed issues related to Walter Reed with "CBS News" correspondent Jim Axelrod (Couric, "Evening News," CBS, 3/2). Video of both segments is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": On Friday, "All Things Considered" host Melissa Block discussed issues related to Walter Reed with NPR Pentagon correspondent Guy Raz (Block, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/2). Audio of the segment is available online. In addition, "All Things Considered" on Saturday reported on how politicians are reacting to the reports of problems at Walter Reed. The segment includes comments from Lieberman and Bush (Eliot, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/3). Audio of the segment is available online.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The program on Friday included a discussion with Dana Priest, one of the reporters who wrote the Post series on conditions at Walter Reed, and Mark Benjamin, a reporter for Salon.com (Woodruff, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 3/2). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online.