Walter Reed outpatient treatment, poor living conditions, undelivered mail, lack of caseworkers to oversee and facilitate patient care for amputees, brain injured, and psychologically disabled veterans; Walter Reed is not the only military hospital about which questions have been raised; also out there the underfunding of the VA.
The problems at Walter Reed came to the public’s attention through a series of articles by Dana Priest beginning February 18, 2007. Following them, Gen. George Weightman who ran Walter Reed for 6 months resigned March 1, followed by the forced resignation of Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey the next day. Weightman’s boss Army Surgeon General Gen. Kevin "I don’t do barracks inspections at Walter Reed" Kiley who lived across from the notorious Building 18 and who had run the hospital from 2002-2004 lasted one day as the new head of Walter Reed before he was removed. He resigned from the Army on March 12.
One source of the difficulties at Walter Reed was the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) decision on August 25, 2005 to close Walter Reed. Planned renovations were canceled. Another was the privatizing of support services at the hospital. The workforce dropped from 350 experienced professionals to 50 who were not and the contract was given to IAP. IAP began work at Walter Reed in 2003. In 2004, IAP lobbied successfully against an Army recommendation not to privatize the workforce. The OMB reversed the Army finding and the services contract was given to IAP in January 2006 although its implementation was delayed a year. IAP is run by two former KBR executives and had a well connected board of directors as well as being owned by a powerful holding company the Cerberus hedge fund.
However, the generally low priority given to ongoing patient care for wounded soldiers was probably the single greatest reason for the woes at Walter Reed. It bears remembering that there were problems noted as early as 2004 and certainly by 2005 and that Walter Reed is located in the nation’s capital minutes from the White House, the Congress, and the offices of major media outlets. Washington didn’t know about Walter Reed because it didn’t want to know.
The mindset which gives a higher priority to PR than care of the nation’s wounded continues. An August 2008 USAToday story reported that barracks in Fort Sill, Oklahoma meant to relieve conditions experienced by veterans at Walter Reed had mold problems in their ventilation system. The situation had been known for months, but soldiers were ordered not to talk to the press about it. Chuck Roeder, the social services coordinator, who blew the whistle on conditions at the base was rewarded for his diligence by being forced out of his job.