Army Works to Repair Medical Center, Reputation

Army officials toured Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Wednesday to inspect and monitor repairs at the facility, which has been criticized for poor conditions and patient care. The Army's surgeon general and a veterans advocate debate the medical center's future.

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    The U.S. Army rushed today to respond to a Washington Post series on poor patient treatment and rundown buildings at its largest medical facility, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

    Soldiers and contract workers spackled holes in ceilings this afternoon and repainted rooms where moldy wallpaper and carpets have been removed from Building 18, part of the focus of the Post report.

    Building 18 is one five buildings attached to Walter Reed and home to 76 recovering soldiers. They make up about 10 percent of the nearly 700 outpatients at the facility.

    The Post's report quoted soldiers charging neglect and frustration in the extreme at Walter Reed. It highlighted problems with the outpatients' housing, including rodent infestation, holes in the walls and ceilings, and moldy carpets and wallpaper.

    At a Pentagon briefing this morning, top officials said they had been surprised by the Post report.

    GEN. RICHARD CODY, Army Vice Chief of Staff: I am disappointed that I had to learn about the conditions of that building through media reports.


    Army Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody said there had been a breakdown in leadership.


    I'll take responsibility for this, and I'll make sure that it's fixed. But I'm not here today to lay out at what level.

    We know what level. I've had meetings with those people, and the appropriate actions have been taken. I will personally oversee the plan to upgrade Building 18, and we'll soon change the name of it. Referring to a place where our soldiers stay as Building 18 is not appropriate.

    We own that building, and we're going to take charge of it. And other facilities, I will oversee and ensure that our soldiers and their families, who have sacrificed so much, receive the care and the housing they so deserve as they go on their road to recovery.


    General, you said appropriate action has been taken. Has anyone been relieved of command or fired?


    No. We will do the right thing across the board, as we continue to assess where the leadership failure and breakdowns were.

    In some cases, I'll just say it as plainly as I can: We had people that were put in charge that did not have, in my mind, in my experience, the right rank and the right experience and the authority to be able to execute some of the missions that was required.


    Dr. William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, insisted that any failures were not in the quality of medical care.

    DR. WILLIAM WINKENWERDER, Assistant Secretary of Defense: The concerns that have been raised are not about the quality of the medical care or about the care and professionalism of the medical staff at Walter Reed. That is not the issue.

    This is not a resource issue. There are resources to do all the things we need to do to take care of people. So, at the end of the day, I think this matter is about trust and the trust that we all have with the service members and their families.

    The trust has taken a hit here. And I think it's our job to repair that trust and to re-earn that trust, and that's what we're going to do.


    Winkenwerder also said an independent review would look into the breakdown and would examine the military's other major East Coast medical facility, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

    The Post's report also sparked outrage from Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Congressman Bob Filner, said, quote, "We need to bring the Army people in and say, 'What the hell is going on?'"

    And Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told the NewsHour Congress will conduct its own investigation.

    REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), Maryland: Clearly the system failed our veterans at Walter Reed. And it's very important that we get in there right away, have an investigation, clean up the mess, and make sure that our veterans who have sacrificed so much, and their families, are treated with the dignity that they deserve.


    Several members of Congress have also called for new legislation to deal with problems raised in the report.