Washington — Money woes and Pentagon neglect are to blame for shoddy outpatient conditions and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, an independent review has concluded.
Calling for major changes in troop care, the Independent Review Group said the aging hospital in Washington, D.C., was beyond the point of repair. It urged a quick infusion of funds to relieve short-term problems and said the Pentagon should accelerate plans to build a new, expanded facility in Bethesda, Md.
"The American ethic is that America always takes care of its wounded," said John O. "Jack" Marsh, Army secretary during the Reagan administration and co-chairman of the review, noting that problems probably extended to other Army hospitals around the nation.
"We must make certain that America continues that ethic," he said.
Co-chairman Togo D. West, secretary of the Army and Veterans Affairs under President Clinton, blasted the Pentagon's "virtually incomprehensible" inattention to maintenance at Walter Reed as well as an "almost palpable disdain" for troop care.
"Although Walter Reed's rich tradition remains to this day unchallenged, its high reputation has not been maintained," he said.
The investigation, ordered two months ago by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is the first Pentagon review since the disclosure of problems at Walter Reed, one of the premier facilities for treating those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Citing lapses in leadership and oversight as main reasons for the problems, the nine-member independent group concluded that the Defense Department was, or should have been, aware of the widespread problems but neglected them because they knew Walter Reed was slated for eventual closure.
In addition, the Pentagon made problems worse by ordering a hold-down on costs and expenses - dubbed "efficiency wedges" - even as Walter Reed began experiencing an influx of thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Leadership at Walter Reed should have been aware of poor living conditions and administrative hurdles and failed to place proper priority on solutions," according to the report released Wednesday.