One of the Army's most senior generals is vowing to personally oversee the upgrade of a dilapidated hospital ward that houses soldiers recovering from injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army Gen. Richard Cody made the announcement Wednesday, just days after stories in The Washington Post exposed squalid living conditions and bureaucratic nightmares at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Some of the rooms at Walter Reed's Building 18 are rat and mold-infested.
The Washington Post spent four months investigating conditions at the facility, and this week, Cody, the Army's Vice Chief of Staff, went to see Building 18 himself, along with the Army's civilian chief.
"And we were absolutely disappointed in the status of the rooms, and found the delays and lack of attention to detail to the building's repairs inexcusable," Cody said.
Army chiefs, and the top civilian leaders at the Pentagon — including Dr. William Winkenwerder, the assistant defense secretary in charge of health affairs — all say they were unaware of the conditions inside Building 18.
"I never received a concern from a soldier, a family member — and we get concerns all the time directed to us, but we never got a concern sent our way about this issue, which is a little surprising," Winkenwerder said. "I'm not sure why that is."
Walter Reed is considered one of the most advanced hospitals in the world. None of the soldiers interviewed in the Post article complained about the medical care.
But the accounts of squalid conditions and poor case management at the outpatient facilities have embarrassed Army officials.
"Clearly, we've had a breakdown in leadership and have bureaucratic medical and contractual processes bog down a speedy solution to these problems," Cody said.
Army officials privately concede that they will have to reevaluate a whole set of procedures at Walter Reed, including whether recovering patients in the outpatient facilities still have to take part in daily military formations.
For patients who may not be fully ambulatory, or those who suffer from psychological trauma, it's not an easy task. They have to walk to get to the place where formations are held.
It's a complaint that Frank Yoakum, of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, hears a lot from some of the men and women he visits at Walter Reed.
He said if you don't have a spouse or other helper, navigating roads in a wheelchair, on crutches, or on a prosthetic limb could be difficult — especially when there is snow on those roads.
So far, no one at Walter Reed Hospital has been fired, but Gen. Cody promised to change the command structure at the hospital immediately — and he told reporters he would personally oversee it.
"The senior Army leadership takes full responsibility for the lack of quality of life at Building 18, and we're going to fix it," he said.
Renovations have already begun at Building 18. In a few weeks, the Army will rename the now-infamous ward.
In a few years, the entire Walter Reed base will be shut down. The Pentagon is planning to expand the nearby Bethesda Naval Hospital to serve as the national military medical center.