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Hospital Officials Knew of Neglect

Behind the gates of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Butternut Street, the stately homes of Commander George W. Weightman and top Army medical officer Kevin C. Kiley stand in stark contrast to Building 18, which is just across Georgia Avenue.
Behind the gates of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Butternut Street, the stately homes of Commander George W. Weightman and top Army medical officer Kevin C. Kiley stand in stark contrast to Building 18, which is just across Georgia Avenue. (Photos By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

More than a year ago, Chief Warrant Officer Jayson Kendrick, an outpatient, attended a sensing session, the Army's version of a town hall meeting where concerns are raised in front of the chain of command. Kendrick spoke about the deterioration and crowded conditions of the outpatient administrative building, which had secondhand computers and office furniture shoved into cubicles, creating chaos for family members. An inspector general attending the meeting "chuckled and said, 'What do you want, pool tables and Ping-Pong tables in there?' " Kendrick recalled.

Army officials have been at other meetings in which outpatient problems were detailed.

On Feb. 17, 2005, Kiley sat in a congressional hearing room as Sgt. 1st Class John Allen, injured in Afghanistan in 2002, described what he called a "dysfunctional system" at Walter Reed in which "soldiers go months without pay, nowhere to live, their medical appointments canceled." Allen added: "The result is a massive stress and mental pain causing further harm. It would be very easy to correct the situation if the command element climate supported it. The command staff at Walter Reed needs to show their care."

In 2006, Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker in the department of psychiatry, briefed several colonels at Walter Reed about problems and steps that could be taken to improve living conditions at Building 18. Last March, he also shared the findings of a survey his department had conducted.

It found that 75 percent of outpatients said their experience at Walter Reed had been "stressful" and that there was a "significant population of unsatisfied, frustrated, disenfranchised patients." Military commanders played down the findings.

"These people knew about it," Wilson said. "The bottom line is, people knew about it but the culture of the Army didn't allow it to be addressed."

Last October, Joyce Rumsfeld, the wife of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, was taken to Walter Reed by a friend concerned about outpatient treatment. She attended a weekly meeting, called Girls Time Out, at which wives, girlfriends and mothers of soldiers exchange stories and offer support.

According to three people who attended the gathering, Rumsfeld listened quietly. Some of the women did not know who she was. At the end of the meeting, Rumsfeld asked one of the staff members whether she thought that the soldiers her husband was meeting on his visits had been handpicked to paint a rosy picture of their time there. The answer was yes.

When Walter Reed officials found out that Rumsfeld had visited, they told the friend who brought her -- a woman who had volunteered there many times -- that she was no longer welcome on the grounds.

Last week, the Army relieved of duty several low-ranking soldiers who managed outpatients. This week, in a move that some soldiers viewed as reprisal for speaking to the media, the wounded troops were told that early-morning room inspections would be held and that further contact with reporters is prohibited.

Yesterday, Walter Reed received an unscheduled inspection by a hospital accreditation agency. Members of the Joint Commission, formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, began a two-day visit "for cause" to examine discharge practices that have allowed soldiers to go missing or unaccounted for after they are released from the hospital.


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