Weightman takes blame for scandal
By Tom Philpott
By Tom Philpott
"We didn't deliver what they needed and we didn't hear their cries for help," said Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was fired as commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center March 1.
"I'm not here to let down patients," Weightman added. "I'm here to take care of them."
Weightman was recalling how he felt listening to testimony last week of two severely injured Walter Reed outpatients, and the distraught wife of another, describing episodes of institutional neglect that occurred after they moved from inpatient status to join hundreds of outpatients housed on or near the Walter Reed campus, usually for months, sometimes for years.
"I'll tell you what affected me the most," Weightman said of their testimony. "It's the frustration I heard from these patients and their families with our system. And I'm responsible for all that."
Weightman explained what he thought went wrong at the Army's premier hospital in an hour-long interview with Military Update. There were breakdowns in leadership; a support staff too small to handle needs of a large outpatient population; hiring challenges tied to the closure of Walter Reed in 2011; a medical and physical disability board maze designed for a draft-era army, not for wounded volunteers fighting to stay in service.
Weightman also cited what he perceives as a sharp decline in support for the war among military families. That can raise a family's anger at terrible injuries to loved ones and lower tolerance for bureaucratic hassles as they seek proper care and support.
Weightman's shouldering of blame for all problems at Walter Reed surprised some because many of the incidents of neglect and bureaucratic inertia occurred before he took command Aug. 25.
Problems at Walter Reed first were exposed in a Washington Post article Feb. 22. It described some outpatients as stuck in Building 18 just off the main campus, in rooms with holes in the wall, mold and mouse droppings. It described a lack of staff supervision to help schedule and escort patients to appointment, a particular problem for brain-injured patients. It referred to a bog of forms to fill out.
Weightman said he visited four of five buildings for outpatients but not that one. In September, residents had complained about rodents and cockroaches. Weightman sent a preventive medicine team which traced the problem to unsanitary conditions including food in the rooms.
He received no more complaints about the building until the Post article, he said. Weightman said he didn't know about the leaky roof that had left mold growing in two of 54 rooms and in five bathrooms. He learned 26 rooms needed some repair.
"Quite frankly, if relieving me allows the Army and the nation to move forward at a faster pace to improve the care of these soldiers and their families, then I think it will serve a purpose," Weightman said.
He expects to retire when investigations are completed.