WASHINGTON – Wounded soldiers told lawmakers on Monday that the Walter Reed Army Medical Center gives troops "less than what they deserve" in care and quality of living conditions to recover from traumatic injuries suffered in the line of duty.
“Soldiers get less than they deserve from a system seemingly designed and run to cut the costs associated with fighting this war,” Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's national security panel. Shannon was injured by a gunshot wound to the head during a firefight with insurgents in Iraq in 2004.
“The really sad thing is that surviving veterans from every war we’ve every fought detail the same basic story. A story about neglect, lack of advocacy and frustration with military bureaucracy,” Shannon said.
"We have let some soldiers down," said Army Undersecretary Peter Geren, who will become acting secretary of the Army on Friday. "And working with the Congress and the leadership of the Army, all the way down to the lowest ranking civilian or uniformed military, we're going to fix that problem. In fact, we're in the process of fixing it."
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said Congress will get to the bottom of reported problems to give soldiers the care and living conditions they deserve.
"This is absolutely the wrong way to treat our troops," Tierney said.
The White House said failure in leadership led to the downfall of soldier care at Walter Reed.
“Certainly there were failures in leadership which Defense Secretary Gates has made clear,” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters on Monday.
On Friday, President Bush announced plans to name a bipartisan commission to investigate the military health care system, but has not yet named panel members. Snow said the White House is reviewing Walter Reed and other facilities to make sure the quality of living conditions matches the quality of patient care.
“People who come back to this country receive high-level care. We need to follow through on the process," Snow said.
Officials were forced to respond after news articles that first appeared in The Washington Post drew concerns of a deteriorating environment at the 113-acre institution that helps soldiers recover from injuries. Walter Reed's Building 18, a facility that houses hundreds of soldiers recovering from battle wounds, was reported to have mold and soiled carpets as well as mouse and cockroach infestations, among other problems.
“The conditions in the room in my mind were just, it was unforgivable for anybody to live — it wasn't fit for anybody to live in a room like that,” said Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who was injured by an IED and lost sight in his left eye. Duncan testified Monday that renovations began the day after reports were published about poor living conditions in his room in Building 18.
Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army's surgeon general and a former commander of Walter Reed, told lawmakers he was taking "rapid, corrective action" to bring immediate change.
On Friday, Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey resigned. Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, younger brother of retiring Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, was also named to be the new commander of Walter Reed.
A day earlier, Harvey had fired Maj. Gen. George Weightman, commander of Walter Reed, and temporarily replaced him with Kiley. But Kiley was accused by critics of minimizing the problems at the outpatient housing facility there. In announcing Harvey's resignation, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the problems at Walter Reed "appear to be problems of leadership."
"It was clear mistakes were made and I was in charge," Weightman told lawmakers on Monday, adding that he respects the Army's decision to let him go.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said military officials are not ruling out more personnel changes.
"Both the leaders in the Army and the Department of Defense are taking actions that they deem appropriate at this time. We've seen the Army move out aggressively on corrective actions and we'll be looking toward the findings of the independent review group with respect to additional changes that might be appropriate," Whitman said.
Other immediate steps responding to the reports of problems include the creation of an outside panel by Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week to review Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. They have 45 days to offer an investigative review of problems at the two hospitals.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., planned to hold a second hearing on Wednesday.
In a letter Sunday to Gates, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked for an independent commission, possibly headed by former Secretary of State Colin 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. "My fear is that Walter Reed is just the tip of the iceberg, and merely highlights the pervasive and systemic mistreatment of our service members."
FOX News' Molly Henneberg and Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.