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Two Generals Provide A Contrast in Accountability
"I feel terrible for them," said Kiley, keeping his back to the McLeods. "We have got to double our efforts, redouble our efforts, to make these kind of cases disappear in the system."
Weightman, by contrast, turned around to the McLeods and spoke warmly, addressing Annette directly. "I'd just like to apologize for not meeting their expectations, not only in the care provided, but also in having so many bureaucratic processes that just took your fortitude to be an advocate for your husband that you shouldn't have to do," Weightman said, as Kiley finally turned to face the McLeods. "I promise we will do better."
When the two generals were eventually excused, Weightman again turned to the McLeods and shook hands with them; though he spoke quietly, the words "I'm sorry" were clear. Kiley left the room without a glance backward.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shook their heads in amazement as Annette McLeod testified tearfully that she didn't know her husband had been hurt in Iraq "until he called me himself from a hospital in New Jersey."
They reacted similarly when another Walter Reed patient profiled by The Post, Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, spoke about how, while recovering from being shot in the head in Iraq, he was left "extremely disoriented" to wander the Walter Reed campus alone in search of an outpatient facility. The third member of the panel, Spec. Jeremy Duncan, who had two studs where his left ear used to be, described the "unforgivable" squalor of his room at Walter Reed.
But nobody blamed Weightman. "I don't think he should have been fired," said Shannon, wearing a patch over his missing eye.
The lawmakers seemed to agree. "There appears to be a pattern developing here that we've seen before," said Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) "First deny, then try to cover up, then designate a fall guy." Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) advised Weightman that "you probably have a little more blame being laid at your doorstep than I think is probably appropriate." And Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) shared the view of a colleague's wife that Kiley "skirted this stuff for five years and blamed everyone else."
Weightman was not so easy on himself; he pleaded guilty repeatedly to a "failure of leadership," and said lawmakers were "absolutely right" to question what was "obviously a failure."
Kiley started off in similar fashion, saying he was "personally and professionally sorry" and acknowledging: "I share these failures." But the further he got from his prepared testimony, the less contrite he became. He was blameless after Walter Reed shifted maintenance to a private contractor in 2004. "I was not the commander then."
Shouldn't top officers make sure proper care is being given at every level? "I don't get involved at my level . . . at an individual issue."
Will he find a way to break down privacy obstacles that hampered proper care? "I'm not in charge of it, but I'll take care of it."
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), like his colleagues, was skeptical about Weightman's guilt and Kiley's self-exoneration; he wondered if Kiley thought the problems at Walter Reed "have been in existence for over six months."
Kiley responded with something about "two 15-6 investigations" and something else about the "MEB/PEB process."
"The information we have to date is that General Weightman in fact was trying to work through these problems; he's been fired," Welch continued. "Is that an appropriate response to the situation?"
"That is a decision for the civilian leadership," Kiley answered.
Whatever the merits of Weightman's dismissal, the problems at Walter Reed have not disappeared with him. Before yesterday's hearing, a patient with a prosthetic arm tried to get in but was stopped by a guard, who asked if the young man was supposed to be in the hearing. "I'd like to be," the soldier said.
"It's preselected, unfortunately," the guard replied. The young amputee walked away. Inside, three rows of seats had been reserved for the Army; almost all were empty.