Walter Reed Hearing to Put Spotlight on Kiley's Leadership

Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, Army surgeon general, speaks with Spec. Jeremy Duncan, left, before a tour at Walter Reed.
Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, Army surgeon general, speaks with Spec. Jeremy Duncan, left, before a tour at Walter Reed. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 5, 2007

When the first congressional hearing about the care of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center opens this morning in a campus auditorium, many eyes will turn to Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who has served as the Army's top doctor since he gave up command of the hospital in 2004. The hearing will allow Kiley to explain why bureaucratic tangles and horrid conditions made life so difficult for outpatients at the Army's premier hospital, while also likely putting him in a position of defending his job.

Though members of Congress have called for Kiley to step down and take responsibility for the problems at Walter Reed, he has been spared so far. Other leaders have not been so fortunate: Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the hospital's commander the past six months, was fired on Thursday, and Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was forced to resign on Friday, in part because he appointed Kiley to temporarily take over Weightman's job.

Kiley, the commander of Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004, has been accused of being brash and indifferent to concerns raised about problems there. After a series of Washington Post articles described the outpatient conditions at Walter Reed, Kiley said the problems "weren't serious and there weren't a lot of them," and that they were not "emblematic of a process of Walter Reed that has abandoned soldiers and their families."

People close to Kiley say he realizes he could lose his job over the problems that occurred on his watch, but many who have known him over the past several decades said it would be unlike him to give up. Many colleagues and former commanders described him as a dogged and aggressive leader -- sometimes to a fault. Others described him as constantly career-minded and focused on personal success. Through Army spokesmen, Kiley declined to be interviewed for this article.

Now at the pinnacle of Army medicine as the service's 41st surgeon general, Kiley is capping a diverse career with the challenge of a devastating scandal. Critics argue that his indifference exacerbated the problems; supporters say that he is the only person who can turn the situation around.

"Even if there were sins of omission on the part of General Kiley as he was focused on the soldiers' primary care, now that this will receive his attention in a way that he is uniquely capable of applying it, the Army couldn't have a better guy to do it," said Mike Sullivan, a retired Army colonel who has known and worked with Kiley since the early 1990s and considers him a friend. "He will be utterly ruthless in approaching the problem. I've seen him utterly ruthless any number of times, and it's a thing of beauty."

After graduating from medical school at Georgetown University, Kiley began his Army career as an obstetrics and gynecology specialist, a clinical area that doesn't often produce top Army brass. But he became the division surgeon with the 10th Mountain Division and later deployed to Saudi Arabia as commander of the 15th Evacuation Hospital in support of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, giving him wartime field experience.

Gen. William W. Crouch, who retired after serving as the Army's vice chief of staff and worked with Kiley at several commands, praised his ability to motivate staff members. Crouch said Kiley, an avid runner, was able to whip a group of doctors and nurses into shape before they deployed from Fort Polk, La., to the Middle East.

"I particularly remember him leading doctors, nurses and staff on early-morning runs," said Crouch, who in the early 1990s commanded the 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk. "They probably did not like it, but he was preparing them for the rigors of war."

After graduating from the Army War College, Kiley went to Germany and as a colonel took command of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. There, he supervised the military's largest hospital outside of the United States and dealt with medical issues surrounding missions in the Balkans.

While there, he both impressed colleagues and irked them. In interviews, some said he was a deft leader, but others criticized his apparent desire to stick to the budget and increase productivity while sacrificing care.

"His last concern was his concern for the patient," said retired Col. Robert M. Tabachnikoff, chief of obstetrics and gynecology under Kiley at Landstuhl in the mid-1990s. Tabachnikoff said Kiley wanted to discharge new mothers within 24 hours of delivery to keep beds free and counted phone calls as office visits. "He was more concerned for meeting requirements and advancing his own career. . . . At last, it's catching up with him. His leadership style is being exposed."

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