Only Fools Rush In

“Walter Reed” is now synonymous with scandal. What was billed as a breakdown in patient care at the Army’s premier medical facility in Washington, D.C., has come to represent what ails defense, health care, and probably climate change. It is a beacon for activists and is destined to become a verb. Over-the-top media coverage has ranked Walter Reed up there with Hooverville. 

In the feeding-frenzy that followed revelations of substandard living conditions, many a star was tossed on the funeral pyre, including the hospital commander, the Army surgeon general, and the secretary of the Army (though service secretaries seem to have a short life expectancy nowadays). 

But wait. In the “Oops, So Sorry about That” category of Python proportions (Monty, that is), the Army seems to have acknowledged it made a mistake in canning Walter Reed hospital head and fall guy, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman. Ten short days after The Washington Post published its most compelling fodder for a Pulitzer in some time, telling of supposed horrifying conditions at the aging medical facility, the Army stated it had lost trust and confidence in Weightman’s leadership. It had been widely noted at the time that Weightman was well-respected in the medical community and well-liked by his staff. He already had been credited with improving outpatient care in his brief and suddenly disastrous tenure. This did not seem to matter. Then-Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley filled in, though it was reported at the time he knew of adverse conditions at the facility. Somehow, the Army did not see that as an issue: Defense Secretary (and occasional superhero) Robert M. Gates wanted action. Apparently he did not specify he wanted correct (and just) action. 

Within 8 months of its haste to act, the Army extended an apology of sorts sending Weightman to head the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md. For the “Who’s on First?” followers: Weightman ultimately was replaced at Walter Reed by then-Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the brother of former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who was chief when the story broke. Now a lieutenant general, Schoomaker-the-Younger is the Army’s Surgeon General, the office where Weightman awaited his fate before taking Schoomaker’s old job at Detrick. 

The Army’s admission of its mistake is admirable but cannot compensate Weightman for his loss; his reputation is forever marred. On the up side, Gates looked tough. The Post got its Pulitzer. The mob got its show at the base of the guillotine.

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