The High Human Price of War

Walter Reed couldn’t handle wounded from Iraq, leader says
By Peter Spiegel, Times Staff Writer
February 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — The head of the Army hospital responsible for most of the seriously injured war veterans has acknowledged that the staff responsible for tracking patients after they receive treatment was overwhelmed by the number of wounded when violence spiked in Iraq two years ago.

The undermanned staff may have led to wounded veterans falling through the bureaucratic and medical cracks, he said.

Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander of the prestigious Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said the number of outpatient soldiers reached a high of 872 in summer 2005, up from about 100 before the war, leaving the military and medical staff responsible for monitoring their well-being unable to keep on top of critical cases.

“We found that the platoon sergeants that we had for accountability and the case managers that we had, they were literally managing 125 patients each,” Weightman said. “That’s too many to do [oversight] effectively.”

Walter Reed, located in northwest Washington, D.C., is renowned for its inpatient medical care, which has helped keep alive hundreds of soldiers who probably would have died during previous conflicts.

Less well-known is the care soldiers receive as outpatients, which has stretched to an average of 10 months — two months longer than Army guidelines call for — a period Weightman said can be even more frustrating for wounded soldiers and their families.

“When you’re an inpatient, you’re literally a captive in our organization,” Weightman said. “When you’re an outpatient, there’s a lot more options that you have as a patient as far as where you can go and who accounts for you. That was, in some cases, a problem.”

Weightman’s acknowledgment, made during a briefing Friday for a small group of reporters, came ahead of a Washington Post investigation to be published today that details multiple cases of soldiers who accused Walter Reed of neglecting them and forcing them to live in substandard wards on the medical center’s campus once they became outpatients.

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