By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 25, 2007
The preliminary findings of a nine-month Army investigation confirm problems in the administrative procedures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other hospitals, and Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey has ordered the service to begin fixing them, a spokesman said yesterday.
The Army inspector general's probe said that the service needs to standardize its training of workers who assist patients, that its information-management databases are inadequate and that there are "policy disconnects" between Army regulations and Defense Department instructions.
After hearing recommendations from the inspector general's office on improvements, Harvey directed Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, to start implementing those steps that can be taken immediately, Army spokesman John P. Boyce Jr. said yesterday. The office's final report is not expected for several weeks.
"Look, this is very complex," Harvey said in a statement. "But this is too important and cannot wait for a report to be finished or a review to be completed. We'll fix as we go; we'll fix as we find things wrong."
The investigation, which began in April, was prompted by a Government Accountability Office study of the Army's system for evaluating the fitness of wounded soldiers to stay in the service.
Harvey's action followed the publication last week of a two-part series in The Washington Post on the challenges facing soldiers being treated as outpatients at Walter Reed. The articles depicted a system in which outpatients at the Army's premier medical facility often languish in a numbing bureaucracy, some forgotten, many overwhelmed.
The series touched a nerve with the public, politicians and the military. The resulting cascade of outrage underscored that, while the war in Iraq is an enormously divisive issue, it remains a tenet of faith among the public that wounded troops deserve the best of care.
President Bush demanded swift action to fix the problems, and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates declared the situation at Walter Reed "unacceptable" and promised that officials responsible would "indeed be held accountable."
The Army, meanwhile, has begun repairing facilities that house Walter Reed's outpatients.
Gates named an eight-member independent review group on Friday to review all rehabilitative care and administrative procedures at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Co-chaired by former Army secretaries Togo West and John O. Marsh Jr., the group will submit a report to the Pentagon within 45 days.
One member of the panel, John J.H. "Joe" Schwarz, a physician and former Republican congressman from Michigan, said yesterday that it had not yet met and that he was "awaiting marching orders" on how the review will proceed.