WASHINGTON Problems over treatment of wounded soldiers that created a scandal at the top U.S. military veterans' hospital are prevalent throughout the Army's health care system, lawmakers said on Monday.
One Democrat speaking at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing also suggested that the crisis at Walter Reed hospital may have been a consequence of what he called the "terrible planning" surrounding the U.S. military operation Iraq.
Rep. John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's national security subcommittee, said the problems did not stop with the Washington, D.C. hospital.
"I also, unfortunately, feel that these problems go well beyond the walls of Walter Reed, and that they are problems systemic throughout the military health care system," he said.
"Is this just another horrific consequence of the terrible planning that went into our invasion of Iraq?" Tierney asked. Democrats and some Republicans accuse the Bush administration of bungling the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The outcry over conditions at the hospital followed a report in The Washington Post that some recuperating soldiers at Walter Reed were living in rodent-infested quarters and trapped in a bureaucratic limbo.
Army Secretary Francis Harvey resigned and the general in charge of the facility, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, was replaced.
"These problems are not unique to Walter Reed," said Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. "The crushing complexity and glacial pace of outpatient procedures in medical evaluation boards are Army-wide problems."
"All the plaster and paint in the world won't cure a system that seems institutionally predisposed to treat wounded soldiers like inconveniences rather than heroes," Davis added.
During Monday's hearing, Weightman publicly apologized to wounded soldiers and their families who testified about substandard conditions and bureaucratic neglect.
"I promise you we'll do better," said Weightman, who led Walter Reed from last August until he was fired last week.
One of those who testified, Annette McLeod, laid the blame on Weightman's predecessor, Ret. Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer, who commanded Walter Reed for two years until last August.
She said Farmer refused to see her when she tried to complain about delays in tests and treatment for her husband, Cpl. Wendell McLeod, who suffered head injuries in Iraq. "They told me he did not have time to talk to me," she said.
President George W. Bush has ordered a wide-ranging review of all U.S. veterans facilities in the wake of the scandal.
The Post revelations were particularly embarrassing because Bush, senior defense officials and lawmakers have repeatedly visited those in the hospital who served in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army said last week that Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker would take over command at the hospital. He is the brother of the Army's top military official, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who told the hearing Monday he "couldn't be madder" about the "things that have turned up" at Walter Reed.