By Steve Vogel and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 2, 2007
The commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center was fired yesterday after the Army said it had lost trust and confidence in his leadership in the wake of a scandal over outpatient treatment of wounded troops at the Northwest Washington hospital complex.
Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who assumed command of Walter Reed in August, will be temporarily replaced by Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. But the appointment of Kiley, who had earlier been the facility's commander, surprised some Defense Department officials because soldiers, their families and veterans' advocates have complained that he had long been aware of problems at Walter Reed and did nothing to improve its outpatient care.
The action came 10 days after a Washington Post series exposed the squalid living conditions for some outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed and bureaucratic problems that prevented many from getting the care they need.
"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," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a statement. "When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command."
A senior Defense Department official said Gates had demanded quick action to show that the Pentagon was serious about improvements at Walter Reed. But the official said that Gates was not involved in the appointment of Kiley.
Now surgeon general of the Army and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command, Kiley will take over temporarily as commander of Walter Reed "until a general officer is selected for this important leadership position," the Army said in a statement.
Kiley was commander at Walter Reed until 2004. He has called the Post stories a "one-sided representation" of conditions at the facility. "While we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed," he said.
Weightman, an easygoing, open Army leader, is well respected in the military medical community and well liked among the staff at Walter Reed. He took command in August and instituted some changes to improve outpatient care. The defense official said his firing and replacement by Kiley are likely to be demoralizing to the staff at the medical center.
The Army is already cracking down on some staff members after the reports of poor care. A number of soldiers have been reassigned from their duties at Walter Reed, including a captain and several sergeants, according to an Army official. More than 100 soldiers will arrive at Walter Reed later this month to permanently reinforce the medical brigade responsible for overseeing outpatient care.
Yesterday, an independent review panel appointed by Gates to investigate outpatient care at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda held its first meeting at the Pentagon.
The group will "identify any critical shortcomings and opportunities to improve the rehabilitative care, administrative processes, and quality of life for injured and sick members of the armed forces" at Walter Reed and -- though there have been no complaints of poor care there -- at the Navy hospital, said William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
The Army said the decision to relieve Weightman was made Wednesday after several days of consideration. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey consulted with Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. Richard A. Cody, the vice chief of staff, according to Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.
"Maj. Gen. Weightman was informed . . . that the senior Army leadership had lost trust and confidence in the commander's leadership abilities to address needed solutions for soldier-outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center," the Army statement said.
Weightman, a West Point graduate, served with the 82nd Airborne Division during the invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War. During the early stages of the Iraq war, he served as command surgeon for coalition land forces. As commander of Walter Reed, Weightman also headed the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command.
Last Friday, Weightman published an open letter in the hospital newspaper responding to the Post series, "The Other Walter Reed," disputing its criticisms.
"First and foremost, I want to assure all the staff that I do not believe that there is the 'other' Walter Reed," Weightman wrote. "I firmly believe that we deliver the same level of world-class healthcare to all our patients and their families, regardless of whether they are inpatients or outpatients."
Shortly after noon yesterday, Weightman sent out an e-mail to the entire Walter Reed garrison announcing his relief. "I am confident that you will continue to do a great job . . .," he wrote. "You're a great team and I have been honored to work with you."
Staff writer Dana Priest contributed to this report.