By Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press ServiceFebruary 22, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Feb. 22, 2007) - Senior defense officials yesterday said they take full responsibility for the recently reported poor-quality outpatient housing and bureaucratic hassles some servicemembers have experienced at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and offered up a "no excuses" approach to fixing the problems.
"Several matters reported ... are serious matters. They deserve immediate attention, and they are getting immediate attention," Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said at a Pentagon briefing.
"They are problems that need (to be) fixed and fixed immediately," he said.
Officials are putting together an independent review group that will report back with recommendations to the offices of the secretaries of the Army and Navy, as well as Winkenwerder's office, he said. Meanwhile necessary repairs and leadership changes are being made.
Winkenwerder emphasized that none of the reported complaints cited the medical care of the wounded servicemembers or the treatment of their families by the medical staff at Walter Reed. The concerns lay solely with caring for the "whole person" as the servicemembers and their families worked through the outpatient care process, Winkenwerder said.
Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody yesterday visited Building 18, a former hotel near the medical center that houses some Walter Reed outpatients and their families.
Cody said they were "absolutely disappointed" in the living conditions there and that there had been a breakdown in leadership. He called the delays in the repairs to the building "inexcusable."
Cody said he is a frequent visitor to the medical center facilities and has regular conversations with the staff, servicemembers and families there. Even so, he said, he was caught off guard by the reports.
"I am disappointed that I had to learn about the conditions of that building through media reports," Cody said.
Winkenwerder and Cody both said they had received no complaints about Building 18.
"That is not an excuse. ... Clearly, we've had a breakdown in leadership, and a bureaucratic medical and contractual process bogged down a speedy solution to these problems," Cody said. "I can assure you the appropriate vigor and leadership is being applied to this issue, and we will correct any problems immediately."
Cody said he personally will oversee the plan to upgrade Building 18.
"I'll take responsibility. I am the vice chief of staff of the Army," Cody said. "I'll take responsibility for this, and I'll make sure it's fixed."
Building 18 is located on Georgia Avenue. It has 54 double rooms, with 76 servicemembers living there. Each room has a private bath, a sink and a refrigerator.
Cody said he found that the conditions at the building ranged from good to "not very good." But, said he said, the conditions at the home are not indicative of the facilities most wounded servicemembers enjoy at the medical facility.
"This is an anomaly that is going to be fixed," Cody said.
Cody also addressed reported complaints of patients unable to make or meet appointments and of other scheduling problems. He said officials will open a one-stop family assistance center at Walter Reed.
"The Army leadership is committed and dedicated to ensuring that (servicemembers') quality of life and the quality of their medical care is equal to their quality of service and sacrifice," Cody said.
Winkenwerder acknowledged that because of the problems, officials will have to work to rebuild the trust that has been lost.
"The trust has clearly taken a hit here," he said. "I think it's our job to repair that trust, to re-earn that trust, and that's what we intend to do."
Both Winkenwerder and Cody said funds are available for all needed repairs.
The Walter Reed Health Care system includes 10 major treatment facilities in three states. The system boasts a staff of 6,000 that includes more than 600 Army physicians. It provides care for more than 150,000 soldiers, other servicemembers, family members and retirees in the National Capital Area."