TOPICS > Nation

Senate Hears Testimony on Walter Reed Conditions

March 6, 2007 at 10:59 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the Walter Reed story, and more questions from Congress. Judy Woodruff reports.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: We welcome our witnesses here today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, the Army’s top brass faced questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Outgoing Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker accepted responsibility for substandard care of some wounded soldiers, but said any shortcomings in medical care are symptomatic of a much larger problem in the military.

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army: I will tell you that we all run in a bureaucratic morass. Life every day in this system is like running in hip boots in a swamp, and it sucks the energy out of you every day, not just in the medical system, but in everything else that we do.

'Too little money'

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite questions about facilities at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington...

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER: ... inexplicable and it's unacceptable...

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... General Schoomaker tried to broaden the focus.

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER: But there's a metaphor within a metaphor here. You know, we fixed the mold. We fixed the things that you talked about.

But the roof isn't fixed. And if you don't fix the roof, these things are going to be back. That's the problem. And it really is a metaphor for a much bigger challenge that we have.

And I'll tell you, how much energy have all of us here spent on the V.A., MILCON, BRAC bill this year? I mean, we're six months into the fiscal year, and we don't have a bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma asked if the problem was money.

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER: We've always had too little money. I've testified here too much about the underfunding of the United States Army historically.

And when I have gone around, everywhere I've gone, they have complimented the health care providers in our system. And if we're guilty of one thing, it's we've been drinking our own bath water about how well we've been treating everybody. Everybody has given us thumbs up on it, and we've overlooked something that we shouldn't have overlooked.

Treating soldiers with PTSD

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another theme in the hearing was the military's admitted difficulties in diagnosing soldiers' mental problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. When asked about that and traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, by Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan, the U.S. Army surgeon general, Kevin Kiley, said it was hard to identify and categorize soldiers' mental injuries and to ensure proper treatment.

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, Surgeon General, U.S. Army: I've said on multiple occasions that the emergence of PTSD and the emergence of, particularly mild, TBI is a very complex process that we're only now, in the last year or two, beginning to realize how to diagnose and treat.

And I would agree that it is very difficult for the disability system of the Department of Defense to recognize the nuances, if I can use that term.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: In that respect, our failure to take those problems into account, would you say we have been shortchanging some soldiers?

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY: Yes, sir, I think we have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senators zeroed in on how good a job the military has done determining proper treatment and benefits for wounded soldiers. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York worried about what happened to soldiers who leave active duty with serious disabilities.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: And, you know, the problem that I heard over and over again is a perception that Walter Reed was concerned with releasing soldiers from active duty at a greatly reduced disability benefit level as quickly as possible, a lump sum solution cheaper than a lifetime of financial retirement care.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley's role

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lieutenant General Kiley came under sharp questioning for both his role as a former commander of Walter Reed and his current responsibility as the Army's top medical officer, from both Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), Missouri: It appears to me that you are, in fact, the commander that was in the position to know the most and be in the position to do the most about it. And, in fact, in your testimony, I'm concerned, General, it's almost like you still continue to try to diminish the severity of this problem and the fact that it's systematic and that there's so much work that needs to be done.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), South Carolina: General Kiley, should you resign?

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY: Sir, that's a difficult question to answer. I certainly serve at the pleasure of the senior leadership of the department and would respect their decisions. I still think I've got the right skill sets and the right experience to fix these problems, but as I said, I stand ready for a decision.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two Army officials already have lost their jobs over the scandal. Major general George Weightman was relieved of command of Walter Reed Hospital last week. And on Friday, Francis Harvey was forced to resign as secretary of the Army.