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Young faces fury in vets' scandal

After a newspaper report, the frequent visitor to wounded soldiers is assailed online for inaction.

Published March 2, 2007

[AP Photo]
After a newspaper report, the frequent visitor to wounded soldiers is assailed online for inaction.

WASHINGTON - Rep. C.W. Bill Young and his wife, Beverly, have spent hundreds of hours helping wounded soldiers and Marines. They've provided money and gifts and even changed a law so that wounded soldiers would not have to pay for their hospital meals.

But on a day when an Army general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center lost his job because of outrage over shoddy conditions, the Youngs were brought into the growing controversy. In the blogosphere and in the online journal Slate, people asked whether the Indian Shores Republican had done enough.

The questions were prompted by a Washington Post story Thursday that said Young stopped visiting the wounded in 2004 at Walter Reed because he was frustrated with the response to his complaints about poor medical care.

Daniel Politi, a Slate columnist, wrote that he "wonders why Rep. Young didn't tell his colleagues in Congress about these frustrations. If he did, why didn't they do anything?" Many people posted similar comments on the Buzz, a St. Petersburg Times political blog.

In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, the congressman and his wife said the Post gave an incomplete account of their activities at Walter Reed. They said the Post, which uncovered moldy, rat-infested rooms in outpatient dormitories, made it appear that the Youngs were aware of those problems. But Young said that his complaints were focused on inpatient care and that he notified Army officials about them.

He said he was frustrated that some of those problems were not fixed, but "I have never suggested that Walter Reed is in crisis."

The congressman said that "Walter Reed, in general, provides good medical care."

Passionate defense

Beverly Young posted a passionate defense of their activities on the Buzz.

"I have given most of my time and all of my energy to making a better life for the wounded returning home," she wrote. "We have never once turned our backs on a soldier in need."

Young's sons, Rob, 30, and Patrick, 19, chimed in with their own postings.

"Wow, what gives any of you the right to bash my father or my mother? What have any of you done for the veterans?" Patrick wrote.

Rob took the unusual position that his parents were "almost pathological" about the wounded and spent too much time helping them.

"I am sick of the way my parents spend all of their free time going from vets hospital to military hospital and back again, helping and personally financing wounded veterans to the exclusion of everything else," Rob wrote.

Beverly Young verified the authenticity of the comments and said Rob has been unhappy that she and the congressman have missed many family events because of their hospital visits.

Beverly Young said that during their visits to Walter Reed a soldier with a head injury repeatedly fell out of his bed. One soldier's surgery had to be delayed because of broken equipment.

The Youngs said that they complained to Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, who headed the hospital and is now the Army's surgeon general, and that they were not satisfied with his response. They said they complained to other Army officials.

Rep. Young, who at the time was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he did not hold hearings or complain in a press release.

"I don't do my business through the press," he said.

But Young said he was "offended" recently when Kiley blamed his subordinates for the Walter Reed problems.

"He was the boss and had been told about many of these problems by Beverly and by me," said Young, who is now the senior Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. "I think he should be held accountable."

Another firing?

Beverly Young went a step farther.

Kiley "should be fired because of his lack of commitment to his troops," she said.

Kiley did not return a telephone call Thursday, but Army spokesman Paul Boyce said, "We have an ongoing action plan that we're looking at and we're addressing concerns as they come to our attention. We continue to take corrective action as items come to our attention that need to be fixed."

Thursday morning, the Army announced that Maj. Gen. George Weightman, commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, had been fired because "the senior Army leadership had lost trust and confidence in the commander's leadership abilities" to fix the problems at Walter Reed.

Kiley, who as surgeon general oversees all medical care, will temporarily serve as the Walter Reed commander.

Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair can be reached at or 202 463-0575.

[Last modified March 1, 2007, 22:50:30]

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