WASHINGTON – The Army's top medical official has submitted his request for retirement to Pentagon officials amid a broadening scandal over poor health care for veterans returning from Iraq.
All signs were pointing to Army Surgeon General Kevin C. Kiley 's early retirement, which he made official by submitting paperwork on Sunday. Before becoming the Army's surgeon general, he was the top official in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. A series of news reports by The Washington Post in February showed poor treatment and neglect of outpatient soldiers at the hospital, and the stories have precipitated a major shake-up at the Pentagon.
"I submitted my retirement because I think it is in the best interest of the Army," Lt. Gen. Kiley said in a statement.
He said he wanted to make room for officials "to focus completely on the way ahead and the Army Action Plan to improve all aspects of soldier care."
"We must move quickly to fill this position," acting Army Secretary Pete Geren said, according to the statement. "This leader will have a key role in moving the way forward in meeting the needs of our wounded warriors."
And speaking in front of a group of Walter Reed workers on Monday, Geren said promised to do a better job of treating soldiers.
"We pledge that we will never leave a fallen comrade. That means on the battlefield, in the hospital, or wherever care or support may be needed, for however long that care may be required. I will never leave a fallen comrade," Geren said.
He added: "Events of late — failures by some, failures in our system — have tarnished the reputation of us all. The American people expect us to fulfill our obligation to those who have borne the battle. And they're angry and they're disappointed when we fail."
The Associated Press reported that a senior official, who asked not to be named, said Geren requested Kiley's retirement.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released a statement saying she was pleased with Kiley's resignation.
"It's been clear over the past several weeks that the culture of command that Lieutenant General Kiley established within the Army Medical Command led to many of the deficiencies at top Army medical facilities," McCaskill said.
"I applaud Lieutenant General Kiley for taking responsibility for these failures. It must be clear at all times and at all levels of command that anything short of the best care for our injured service members is unacceptable," she added.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton said the Kiley's resignation along with the others are only "the first step," and following steps include legislation his committee will be preparing in the wake of the scandal.
"Leaders must be held accountable for what happens under their command. The changes in leadership that have occurred since the situation at Walter Reed gained public attention are the first step. But this step alone will not fix the problems ... . With the installation of new leaders, the real test will be making sure that the work fixing problems actually gets done," said Skelton, of Missouri.
Kiley's announcement came on a day that the Army sent a report to Congress detailing more problems uncovered by an internal review over the past year.
The Army said investigators found discrepencies in the way soldiers are treated between Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense Department medical facilities, and that information management isn't up to par.
The reviewers recommended better training and updated regulations.
"Many cases have become more complicated because of the types of injuries Soldiers now are sustaining in combat, and with this patient volume, the Army currently does not meet its own case-processing time standards or those of the Defense Department," Army officials said.
Kiley, an obstetrician and gynecologist, was director of Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004, and shortly after the reports about mistreatment broke, he downplayed the level of problems at the hospital.
Officials have been forced to respond to the reports about Walter Reed, the military's premiere medical facility on a 113-acres in Northwest Washington.
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 reports also detailed bureaucratic roadblocks to care.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has voiced his displeasure over the situation, taking the resignations of Army Secretary Francis Harvey, the top civilian Army official, and Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was director of the hospital at the time the reports broke.
Gates also has commissioned a task force to look into the problems at the hospital and complaints at another top military facility, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., just outside of Washington.
President Bush has commissioned his own bipartisan task force, to be led by former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, a Republican, and former Clinton administration Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. That commission will look into treatment at all military and veterans health care facilities. Bush also has created an internal task force to be headed by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson.
The Associated Press also reported that Nicholson on Monday ordered clinics under his department to report on their conditions by next week.
Some military officials, including Kiley, already have testified on Capitol Hill about the widening scandal, and more hearings are scheduled.
During testimony last week, Kiley was more conciliatory in his remarks, and was seen apologizing directly to soldiers and their families seated nearby during the hearing.
The Army said Army Deputy Surgeon General Gale S. Pollack will take over Kiley's duties until a new surgeon general is chosen by a commission.
The Pentagon last week said it has been making progress in addressing the problems uncovered at Walter Reed, including adding caseworkers to help smooth out some of the medical and roadblocks soldiers face.
FOX News' Nick Simeone contributed to this report.