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Changes planned in Walter Reed command structure

A worker removed moldy wallpaper in a room in Building 18 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center last month. Lawmakers have expressed outrage over the conditions of the facility. (nikki kahn/washington post via ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON -- Army officials plan to revise the command structure at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, installing a nonmedical general officer as deputy commander to ensure that administrative operations run smoothly, following reports of problems with outpatient care.

A one-star general who has not yet been identified will work with Major General Eric Schoomaker, a physician who was named Friday to head Walter Reed, two defense officials said.

The new deputy will be a general who will bring a nonmedical eye to the operation to "make it run like it's supposed to run," said one Army official familiar with the decision.

General Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, has also directed that an infantry officer -- one who recently served in Iraq -- assume the leadership of a new unit at Walter Reed called the "Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade." The specific aim of the unit will be to take care of outpatients.

The brigade will address problems such as those identified in Washington Post reports about substandard conditions and bureaucratic tangles that affected the care of injured soldiers.

"The changes will allow commanders to provide direct organizational leadership without any other distraction," said Brigadier General Anthony Cucolo, the Army's top spokesman.

Since the problems at Walter Reed were made public, the Army has begun refurbishing Building 18, an off-campus facility where dozens of outpatients stay; Major General George Weightman was relieved as Walter Reed commander; and Army Secretary Francis Harvey resigned under pressure from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Congressional hearings on Walter Reed are scheduled to begin today. Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, the Army's surgeon general, is expected to face tough questioning about the facility. Kiley commanded Walter Reed until 2004, when he became the Army's top doctor.

Yesterday, lawmakers called for an independent commission as they expressed outrage over the conditions at Walter Reed.

"I'm worried about if it's this bad at the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed, how is it in the rest of the country? Because Walter Reed is our crown jewel," Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said on ABC's "This Week."

In a letter yesterday to Gates, Schumer asked for an independent panel, possibly headed by former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, to investigate all post-combat medical facilities and recommend changes.

"To think that men and women are serving their country in the most honorable and courageous way possible and all we give them is a dilapidated, rat-infested, run-down building to recover is a disgrace," Schumer wrote.

Last week, President Bush ordered a comprehensive review of conditions at the nation's network of military and veteran hospitals, which have been overwhelmed by injured troops. The White House said the president would name a bipartisan commission to assess whether the problems exist at other facilities. Gates also created an outside panel to review Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.

Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said the scandal is emblematic of the Bush administration.

"I believe this disgraceful neglect has been the result of two things. One is a lack of accountability," said Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Almost no high-level people have ever been held accountable until Secretary Gates came along."

Levin said the second factor "is the overoptimism which just symbolized this administration right from the beginning of this war, that the mission was accomplished."