The Army said Thursday that the two-star general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been relieved of command following disclosures about inadequate treatment of wounded soldiers.
Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command as well as Walter Reed hospital, was relieved of command by Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey.
The Army fired Weightman at the urging of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who met Thursday with a panel formed to investigate conditions at Walter Reed, reports CBS News correspondent Dave Martin.
"I don't have very much patience with people who don't step up to the plate in terms of addressing problems that are under their responsibility," Gates said.
Emerging from a closed-door briefing with Gates, Sen. Jack Reed predicted it won't end with Weightman.
As the commander of Walter Reed, Weightman was the most obvious head to roll for conditions everybody agrees are unacceptable, reports Martin. But he is almost certainly not the only one to blame. He took command of Walter Reed in August of last year, long after much of the bureaucratic red tape that bedevils wounded soldiers and their families had become standard operating procedure.
When they first arrive at Walter Reed, wounded soldiers receive world-class medical care, but that is only the first step on a long road to recovery, adds Martin. After their wounds have been stabilized and they are out of immediate danger, they become outpatients, living in apartments provided by the Army or renting their own. That's where they fall into limbo — or at the very least into the life of a low-ranking soldier coping with the intricacies and indifference of the Army's bureaucracy.
At any given time, there are 55 soldiers being treated for their wounds in the hospital as well as 600 outpatients undergoing therapy or waiting for further surgery. The system clearly is not capable of handling that many outpatients and that is the system Weightman inherited when he took over.
Responding to reports of deplorable conditions at Walter Reed, Illinois Sen. Barak Obama is introducing a bill to set higher standards, require outside inspection of Army hospitals, and let wounded vets cut through the nightmare of paperwork to get needed services, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss.
"The administration has not thought this through," said Obama. "They underestimated the costs and they continue to do so."
The Army and the Defense Department launched a series of investigations after The Washington Post published a series of stories last week that documented problems in soldiers' housing and in the medical bureaucracy at Walter Reed, which has been called the Army's premier caregiver for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said before the action against Weightman was announced that an outside review panel created by Gates would hold its first meeting on Friday at the Pentagon. Headed by two former Army secretaries, Togo West and Jack Marsh, the panel is to review treatment and administrative processes at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. Gates has instructed the group to report its findings publicly within 45 days.
Being relieved of command means Weightman is almost certain to have lost his future in the Army.
A native of Vermont, he graduated from West Point in 1973 and got his medical degree from the University of Vermont. He later served as the surgeon for the 82nd Airborne Division, including during Desert Storm.
He has held a number of medical commands, including service as a leading surgeon during the initial stages of the Iraq war.
Weightman's duties at Walter Reed will be assumed temporarily by Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the commander of U.S. Medical Command, until a permanent replacement is found, Harvey said.
"The Army is moving quickly to address issues regarding outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center," the announcement said.
Last week the Army took disciplinary action against several lower-level soldiers at Walter Reed, but officials have declined to publicly confirm any details of those actions.
The Army Times reported Wednesday that soldiers at Walter Reed have been ordered not to talk to the media. The Pentagon also restricted media coverage of all Defense Department medical facilities, suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, the Times reported.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, in which he refused to discuss any aspect of the Walter Reed investigations, Harvey said the Army also was reviewing conditions at its medical centers elsewhere in the country. He would not be more specific.