Panel Fears Problems Go Beyond Walter Reed

US Army Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon appears at US House Committee on Oversight and Reform - National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington DC, video still
Substandard living conditions found at the Army's flagship veterans hospital likely exist throughout the military health care system, the head of a House panel investigating Walter Reed Army Medical Center said Monday.

"We need a sustained focus here, and much more needs to be done," Rep. John Tierney said of a scandal enveloping Walter Reed. Charges of bureaucratic delays and poor treatment there have produced calls in Congress for quick reform.

Tierney said he is afraid "these problems go well beyond the walls of Walter Reed," adding that "as we send more and more troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, these problems are only going to get worse, not better."

A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing Monday at the hospital brought a wide range of apologies from top-level Army officers and the Army's No. civilian. "We have let some soldiers down," said Peter Geren, the undersecretary of the Army.

Tierney, D-Mass., chairman of the panel, questioned whether problems at the facility are "just another horrific consequence" of inadequate planning that went into war in Iraq; a problem created by contracting out work there to private business, or some other cause.

"This is absolutely the wrong way to treat our troops, and serious reforms need to happen ... immediately," he said.

Geren, who will become acting Army secretary later this week, told the panel that the revelations of poor conditions at Walter Reed had hurt the Army. Defense Secretary Robert Gates forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign last week and he leaves his post on Friday.

Two former commanders at the facility said they accepted responsibility for the failures.

Maj. Gen George W. Weightman, head of Walter Reed from August until he was fired last week said: "You can't fail one of these soldiers ... not one. And we did."

Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, Army surgeon general and head of Walter Reed until 2004, apologized for what he called housing conditions that did "not meet our standards." He said renovations were under way.

He also said a team had been sent to some 11 other installations around the country to make sure there are not similar housing problems.

Lawmakers listened closely as several patients came to the hearing with stories of lax or poor treatment at Walter Reed.

The most riveting testimony came from the wife of a National Guard soldier injured in Iraq, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

"My life was ripped apart the day my husband was injured, and having to live through the mess that we lived through at Walter Reed has been worse than anything I've ever sacrificed in my life," said Annette McLeod.

McLeod told the panel of battling a system that wanted to blame her husband's mental problems not on his head injury but on a preexisting condition.

And she captured exactly why shoddy conditions at Walter Reed have touched such a public nerve, adds Martin.

"This is how we treat our soldiers," said McLeod. "We give them nothing, but they're good enough to go and sacrifice their lives. And we give them nothing."