Washington Army officials are planning to revise the command structure at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, installing a nonmedical general officer as deputy commander to ensure that administrative operations run smoothly, in the wake of serious problems with outpatient care at the facility, officials said Saturday.
A one-star general - who has not yet been identified - will work with Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, a doctor who was named Friday to head Walter Reed, according to two defense officials. The new deputy likely will be a combat arms general who will bring a non-medical eye to the operation to "make it run like it's supposed to run," said one Army official familiar with the decision.
Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, also has directed that an infantry officer - one who recently served in Iraq - take over the lead of a new, revamped unit at Walter Reed called the "Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade" that will aim specifically at taking care of outpatients. The new brigade will address problems such as those identified in a series of Washington Post articles about substandard conditions and bureaucratic tangles that affected the care of injured soldiers who had returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The changes will allow commanders to provide direct organizational leadership without any other distraction," said Brig. Gen. Tony Cucolo, the Army's top spokesman.
Since the problems at Walter Reed were made public, the Army has worked to refurbish Building 18, an off-campus facility where dozens of outpatients stay, and there has been a shake-up in leadership both at the facility and atop the Army. Maj. Gen. George Weightman was relieved as Walter Reed commander on Thursday, and Army Secretary Francis Harvey resigned Friday under pressure from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
A series of congressional hearings about Walter Reed are scheduled to begin Monday, during which Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army's surgeon general, is expected to face tough questioning about the facility. Kiley commanded Walter Reed until 2004, when he became the Army's top doctor.
Also Saturday, the Army released a statement that indicates Weightman acted upon a warning last year from a subordinate about a shortage of workers at Walter Reed and resolved the critical issues that were raised. Col. Peter Garibaldi, the Walter Reed garrison commander, issued a statement through the Army to follow up on an internal memorandum he wrote in September.
In that memo, released publicly Friday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Garibaldi warned that "patient care services are at risk of mission failure" because of staff shortages brought on by the privatization of the hospital's support work force.
Garibaldi said Saturday that Weightman "evaluated the situation and recognized its importance. Consequently all of three critical issues I highlighted were resolved."