By Josh White and Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Army officials plan to revise the command structure at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, installing a nonmedical general officer as deputy commander to ensure that administrative operations run smoothly, in the wake of reports of serious problems with outpatient care at the facility, officials said yesterday.
A one-star general -- who has not yet been identified -- will work with Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, a physician who was named on Friday to head Walter Reed, according to two defense officials. The new deputy will be a general who will bring a nonmedical eye to the operation to "make it run like it's supposed to run," said one Army official familiar with the decision.
Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, has also directed that an infantry officer -- one who recently served in Iraq -- assume the leadership of a new unit at Walter Reed called the "Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade," whose specific aim is to take care of outpatients. The brigade will address problems such as those identified in a series of Washington Post reports about substandard conditions and bureaucratic tangles that affected the care of injured soldiers who had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The changes will allow commanders to provide direct organizational leadership without any other distraction," said Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III, the Army's top spokesman.
Since the problems at Walter Reed were made public, the Army has begun refurbishing Building 18, an off-campus facility where dozens of outpatients stay, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman was relieved as Walter Reed commander, and Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey resigned under pressure from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Congressional hearings on Walter Reed are scheduled to begin tomorrow. Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army's surgeon general, is expected to face tough questioning about the facility. Kiley commanded Walter Reed until 2004, when he became the Army's top doctor.
Also yesterday, the Army released a statement indicating Weightman acted upon a warning last year from a subordinate about a shortage of workers at Walter Reed and resolved the critical issues that were raised. Col. Peter Garibaldi, the Walter Reed garrison commander, issued a statement through the Army to follow up on an internal memorandum he wrote in September.
In that memo, released publicly Friday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Garibaldi warned that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure" because of staff shortages brought on by the privatization of the hospital's support workforce.
Garibaldi said yesterday that Weightman "evaluated the situation and recognized its importance. Consequently, all of three critical issues I highlighted were resolved."
On Friday, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), who heads the panel's national security subcommittee, cited Garibaldi's memo as raising "a new dimension to the problems at Walter Reed."
Tierney said Friday that he intends to ask Army officials at tomorrow's hearing, about the memo and the reasons that the workforce was privatized.