General vows to oversee Army hospital renovation

Published February 22, 2007

WASHINGTON - A top Army general vowed Wednesday to personally oversee the upgrading of Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Building 18, a dilapidated former hotel that houses wounded soldiers as outpatients.

Gen. Richard Cody, the Army vice chief of staff, plans an overhaul for the broken building and the sluggish bureaucracy for outpatient care.

Cody blamed "a breakdown in leadership" for the troubling conditions but said no one has been fired or relieved of command. He did point to lower-ranking officers and noncommissioned officers lacking "the right experience and the authority to be able to execute some of the missions."

Cody and William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said at a news conference that they frequently visit Walter Reed and were surprised and disappointed by the living conditions and that they had learned about them from media reports. The Washington Post reported Sunday and Monday on the challenges facing outpatients at Walter Reed.

"We get concerns all the time directed to us. But we never got a concern sent our way about this issue, which is a little surprising. I'm not sure why that is," Winkenwerder said.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, blasted the Army on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it has known for years about shortcomings at Walter Reed.

Cody called the state of Building 18 - where 76 soldiers live - "inexcusable." He said the Army will review all its procedures for handling wounded soldiers and their families, and would seek to streamline systems for assistance.