Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal

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The Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal—cases of neglect at WRAMC reported by wounded soldiers and their family members—was first reported February 18, 2007, in The Washington Post.

"Although the article focuses primarily on Building 18 of the medical center, authors Dana Priest and Anne Hull also included complaints of 'disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked managers' that make navigating the already complicated bureaucracy to obtain medical care at Walter Reed even more daunting.

"The conditions of Building 18 of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center are described in the article as rodent and cockroach infested. Stained carpets, cheap mattresses, and black mold are other signs of neglect. No heat and water have also been reported by soldiers staying at Walter Reed. In addition, security is inadequate and 'soldiers feel especially vulnerable.' Right outside the unmonitored entry, 'drug dealers work the corner at night.' Struggling, injured soldiers, most suffering from PTSD, paranoid delusional disorder and traumatic brain injury, are forced to 'pull guard duty' to obtain a level of security." [1]

Speaking February 17, 2007, in advance of the WaPo article, Major General George W. Weightman, "commanding general of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, said in an interview Friday that he knows some soldiers have complaints about the way their cases have been handled." [2]

Walter Reed Army Medical Center is run by the Army, not the VA

Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at UCLA, points to the misdirection put forth by Republicans, "[h]elped by some sloppy journalists, [to encourage] the widespread belief that Walter Reed is part of the Veterans Administration—and its mismanagement is therefore another piece of evidence in their brief against 'big government', and, of course, 'socialized medicine.'"

"In an example of this misdirection, President Bush recently announced a federal investigation into both military medical care and VA medical care in the wake of the scandal," Kleiman writes.

"But of course Walter Reed is run by the Army, with the help of those private contractors Republicans love because they're so efficient (and so generous at campaign season). As for the VA medical system—it did used to be terrible," Kleiman writes. "But it was fixed under President Clinton, and now, as the Monthly reported in 2005 has the best quality and customer-satisfaction numbers in the entire health-care system."

Investigations & Accountability

Walter Reed Commission: President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors

Speaking before the American Legion on March 6, 2007, Bush said "that he was appointing a presidential commission to investigate what he called 'unacceptable' treatment of wounded veterans. He said the commission would be led" by former Senate majority leader and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, and by Donna E. Shalala, a former Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, who is currently president of the University of Miami. [3]

See President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors for more details.

Cabinet-level White House Interagency Task Force

President Bush announced on March 2, 2007, that "an interagency task force of seven Cabinet secretaries, led by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, would be convened to determine what can be done immediately to improve veterans' care." [4]

On March 7, 2007, Nicholson said that "the task force will explore ways the seven departments -- Veterans Affairs, Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, Office of Management and Budget, Housing and Urban Development and Labor -- can work together to serve the nation's 'young heroes'." [5]

Additionally, Nicholson said that the "task force's report to Bush is due in 45 days" [6] and that the VA is "hiring 100 new patient advocates who will help troops returning from war deal with the bureaucracy." [7][8]

Pentagon Independent Review Group

Former Secretary of the Army and Virginia Congressman John O. Marsh, Jr. and Togo West, who served as both Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of the Army during the Clinton administration, have been named by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to co-chair an eight-member Pentagon independent review panel "investigating problems" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. [9]

Marsh said March 6, 2007, that "the hospital may lack adequate funding and staff for rehabilitative services." West "cautioned that they have not reached any conclusions about the causes of or remedies for the problems", saying "'We want to be careful about judging too soon.'" [10]

In "a little over a month", a report from the independent review group is "due into the hands" of Secretary Gates. [11]

Fallout: Firings and Hirings

  • Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman was relieved of command at the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center March 1, 2007. [12][13]
  • Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army Surgeon General and commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command, who was named March 1, 2007, as "Weightman's temporary replacement" [14][15], submitted his resignation March 12, 2007, "becoming the third official to lose his job after disclosures last month of substandard care for injured soldiers." [16]
  • Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, currently serving as Deputy Surgeon General, "immediately assumed the top post." [17] Pollock, in an e-mail sent to colleagues and staff in the Army Medical Command on [March 9, 2007], had also sought to minimize reports about conditions at Walter Reed and attacked the media's handling of the issue."
  • Secretary of the Army Dr. Francis J. Harvey resigned March 2, 2007. [18][19][20]
  • Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, commanding general of the Army's Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, MD, was named March 2, 2007, as WRMC's new commander. Schoomaker is the brother of outgoing Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker. [21]
  • On Monday, March 5, 2007, Lt. Gen. Weightman, Lt. Gen. Kiley, and Gen. Richard A. Cody, Army Vice Chief of Staff, were scheduled to testify at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. [22]

Competitive Sourcing Initiative: Push for WRAMC Privatization

The Bush administration's push for privatization of WRAMC "may be responsible for the 'deplorable' outpatient care for soldiers," Ron Brynaert reported March 3, 2007, for The Raw Story. A "five-year, $120 million contract" was awarded to IAP Worldwide Services, Inc., a "firm run by" Al Neffgen, a former senior official at Halliburton, "a multi-national corporation where Vice President Dick Cheney once served as CEO."

"Before the contract, over 300 federal employees provided facilities management services at Walter Reed," according to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), "but that number dropped to less than 60 the day before IAP took over. ... 'Yet instead of hiring additional personnel, IAP apparently replaced the remaining 60 federal employees with only 50 IAP personnel,'" Waxman wrote in a March 2, 2007, letter to Maj. Gen. Weightman.

A September 2006 memorandum which "Garrison Commander Peter Garibaldi sent through [Weightman] to Colonel Daryl Spencer, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Resource Management with the U.S. Army Medical Command," Waxman wrote, "describes how the Army's decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was causing an exodus of 'highly skilled and experienced personnel' ... As a result, ... 'WRAMC Base Operations and patient care services are at risk of mission failure.'"

President's Proposal for Department of Defense FY2004

In the section "Focusing on the Military Mission" of the President's Proposal for the Department of Defense in FY2004, it states:

"As part of the President's Management Agenda's competitive sourcing initiative, the Department is committed to competing one-half, or 226,000, of the positions in DoD's Federal Activities Inventory of 452,000 civilian positions in such commercially available activities as manufacturing eyeglasses for U.S. troops. The Department is attempting to open up for competition many of the commercial services it now performs itself, such as health care activities to free up thousands of military positions for war-fighting."

Bush's "Support the Troops" Budget Cuts

The "current Administration's budget shortchanges those veterans' health care needs by more than $100 million, part of a $2.8 billion potential nationwide shortfall," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said March 7, 2007.

"As In These Times reported in a piece entitled 'Dishonorable Discharge,' back in 2003," Ruth Conniff wrote March 6, 2007, in The Progressive, "'Even more than his father, and Ronald Reagan before him, [George W.] Bush is cutting budgets for myriad programs intended to protect or improve the lives of veterans and active-duty soldiers.' Among the cuts the Administration was pushing back then were $75 a month in 'imminent danger pay' and a $150 family separation allowance, deemed by the White House to be 'wasteful and unnecessary,' In These Times reported. Democrats in Congress led the opposition to those cuts. But a Bush budget still included $3 billion in cuts to VA hospitals. 'VA spending today averages $2,800 less per patient than nine years ago,' In These Times pointed out [in 2005]."

"Schumer said the VA health care system must receive the funding it needs 'so veterans get the quality health care they deserve after they leave places like Walter Reed. Veterans have already made one sacrifice for their nation; they shouldn't be forced to make another.'" [23]

Complaints Date to 2003

"Top officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, including the Army's surgeon general, have heard complaints about outpatient neglect from family members, veterans groups and members of Congress for more than three years," Anne Hull and Dana Priest reported March 1, 2007, in the Washington Post.

As far back as 2003, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, then Walter Reed's commander and "who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews," Hull and Priest wrote.

Operation Iraqi Freedom/Related SourceWatch Resources

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