Friday, March 02, 2007


Former Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey

WASHINGTON — The scandal over conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center claimed its second victim Friday when Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey handed in his resignation to his boss Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"The problems at Walter Reed appear to be problems of leadership," Gates said at the Pentagon at an unscheduled appearance before reporters.

Harvey's resignation follows the departure of a top Army official on Thursday. Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman was relieved of his command after senior officials said they lost trust and confidence in his leadership abilities. Weightman, a two-star general, oversaw the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed.

"I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed. Some have shown too much defensiveness and have not shown enough focus on digging into and addressing the problems," Gates said.

Gates' announcement came on the same day that President Bush ordered a comprehensive review Friday of conditions at the nation's military and veteran hospitals.

bipartisan commission to assess whether the problems at Walter Reed existed at other facilities.

Officials were forced to respond after news articles drew concerns of a deteriorating environment at the 113-acre institution that helps soldiers recover from injuries. Building 18, a facility that houses hundreds of soldiers recovering from battle wounds, was reported to have mold and soiled carpets as well as mouse and cockroach infestations, among other problems.

A permanent commander for Walter Reed was expected to be named late Friday. Harvey has been the Army secretary since November 2004. Gates said Harvey will depart March 9. Gates said the Army under secretary, Pete Geren, will become acting secretary until Bush nominates a permanent replacement.
Congressional hearings on Walter Reed are scheduled for Monday. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and John Tierney, D-Mass., of the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, issued a subpoena on Friday to force Weightman to testify before lawmakers. Weightman was scheduled to come before the committee but the Army refused to authorize him after he was relieved of command.

An independent panel on Thursday began reviewing allegations of poor quality-of-life conditions at two military medical facilities treating soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan plans to meet for the first time.

Bush devoted his weekly radio address — to be broadcast on Saturday — to the problems of veterans' care, and the White House took the unusual step of releasing excerpts in advance. A full text also was to be released later Friday. The administration's response came amid growing outrage about the poor treatment of some veterans — and the prospect that it could backfire on the White House.

"One of my most solemn experiences as president is visiting men and women recovering from wounds they suffered in defense of country," Bush said his prepared address. "Spending time with these wounded warriors is also inspiring because so many of them bring the same courage they showed on the battlefield to their battle for recovery."

The commission to be named by Bush is separate from a review panel appointed by Gates to investigate outpatient care at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The presidential panel will look at all of the nation's military and veteran facilities, according to White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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