Gulf War Vets Home Page

General in charge of Walter Reed hospital has been relieved of command

By Robert Burns, AP Military Writer | March 1, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Army said Thursday that the two-star general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been relieved of command following disclosures about inadequate treatment of wounded soldiers.

The firing of Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command as well as Walter Reed hospital, was announced by Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey.

In a brief announcement, the Army said service leaders had "lost trust and confidence" in Weightman's leadership abilities "to address needed solutions for soldier outpatient care." He had headed Walter Reed since Aug. 25, 2006.

The Army and the Defense Department launched a series of investigations after The Washington Post published a series of stories last week that documented problems in soldiers' housing and in the medical bureaucracy at Walter Reed, which has been called the Army's premier caregiver for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After a visit to the hospital compound last Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said those found to have been responsible for the problems at Walter Reed would be "held accountable."

On Thursday he issued a brief statement endorsing Harvey's action.

"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," Gates said. "When this standard is not met, I will insist on swift and direct corrective action and, where appropriate, accountability up the chain of command."

It was not clear whether Gates insisted on Weightman's firing. A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Gates was "actively involved" in the firing decision.

A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said before Weightman's firing was announced that an outside review panel created by Gates was holding its first meeting Friday at the Pentagon. Headed by two former Army secretaries, Togo West and Jack Marsh, the panel is to review treatment and administrative processes at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. Gates has instructed the group to report its findings publicly within 45 days.

Being relieved of command means Weightman is almost certain to have lost his future in the Army.

A native of Vermont, he graduated from West Point in 1973 and got his medical degree from the University of Vermont. He later served as the surgeon for the 82nd Airborne Division, including during Desert Storm.

He has held a number of medical commands, including service as a leading surgeon during the initial stages of the Iraq war.

Weightman's duties at Walter Reed will be assumed temporarily by Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the commander of U.S. Medical Command, until a permanent replacement is found, Harvey said.

"The Army is moving quickly to address issues regarding outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center," the announcement said.

Last week the Army took disciplinary action against several lower-level soldiers at Walter Reed, but officials have declined to publicly confirm any details of those actions.

The problems at Walter Reed pertain not to the quality of medical treatment for wounded soldiers but rather to the level of care for those who are well enough to be outpatients, living in Army housing at Walter Reed. One building was singled out in the Post reports as suffering from ill-repair, including mold on interior walls.

The Army also has acknowledged problems with the system it uses to evaluate wounded soldiers in determining whether they are well enough to return to active duty.

At a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, in which he refused to discuss any aspect of the Walter Reed investigations, Harvey said the Army also was reviewing conditions at its medical centers elsewhere in the country. He would not be more specific.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.