The Army today fired the top administrator at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, following embarrassing news reports that prompted a Defense Department probe of an outpatient center for roach and mice infestation, mold, rot and nightmarish red tape.
Although a 45-day Pentagon review has only started, Army officials informed Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman this morning that the nation's oldest military service had "lost trust and confidence in the commander's leadership abilities to address needed solutions for soldier-outpatient care" at the hospital. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey made the decision yesterday, Army officials said.
The Army's civilian overseer said the service is acting quickly to respond to problems at the venerated Army hospital.
"We'll fix as we go; we'll fix as we find things wrong," Harvey said. "Soldiers are the heart of our Army and the quality of their medical care is non-negotiable."
Weightman was head of Walter Reed for only about six months. He came to the hospital in late August, after serving as commander of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"I want to inform all of you personally that as of today I have been relieved of command here at WRAMC," Weightman wrote today in a message to Walter Reed staff. "I thank all of you for the professional support and dedication that you have brought to all of our issues and that I am confident that you will continue to do a great job as we work our separate lanes to enhance warrior care at WRAMC. You're a great team and I have been honored to work with you."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates released a statement saying he endorsed the decision to remove Weightman.
"The care and welfare of our wounded men and women in uniform demand the highest standard of excellence and commitment that we can muster as a government," Gates wrote. "When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command."
"The command staff at Walter Reed needs to show they care," said John Allen of the North Carolina National Guard.
The Army said within the next 30 days its own internal review will focus on accountability to the hospital's soldier patients, health and welfare, infrastructure, a much criticized medical administrative process and information dissemination. The Army is separately cooperating with a larger Pentagon review, due in April.
Weightman will be replaced temporarily by the head of U.S. Army Medical Command, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, until a general is selected, the Army said in a statement. Kiley, who has previously overseen the hospital, has also been criticized for failing to act on previous reports of serious problems at Walter Reed.
The hospital now faces new allegations that it has long known of the problems and retaliated against whistle-blowing patients.
Soldiers in the now notorious building 18 have been told they must wake up at 6 a.m. each morning and face unusual daily 7 a.m. inspections and have been told not to speak to reporters.
"Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media," one soldier in the unit told the Army Times newspaper, on condition of anonymity.
Problems at the facility have caused public outrage and prompted 2008 presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to offer a bill today that aims to resolve the site's problems.