WASHINGTON – Turns out the trouble at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the focus of a firestorm of criticism over poor treatment of wounded war veterans, reached into the mailroom.
The Army said Friday that it has opened an investigation into the recent discovery of 4,500 letters and parcels — some dating to May 2006 — at Walter Reed that were never delivered to soldiers.
And it fired the contract employee who ran the mailroom.
In an indication of the Army's sensitivity to problems at Walter Reed, whose reputation as the crown jewel in the Army medical system was tarnished by the disclosures of poor treatment of soldiers earlier this year, officials put out a written statement late Friday afternoon detailing the problem with the mail.
Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, commander of Walter Reed, said he ordered a team of 20 to 40 soldiers and civilians to launch an around-the-clock operation to screen, survey and forward all the letters and parcels. Items addressed to soldiers still at Walter Reed were being hand-delivered Friday night, he said.
"This delay is completely and absolutely unsatisfactory," Schoomaker said.
He took over at Walter Reed after the Army fired his predecessor, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, in the wake of Washington Post stories that spelled out substandard living conditions and excessive red tape for soldiers at Walter Reed.
Army Secretary Francis Harvey also was fired in the days following the disclosures.
The acting Army surgeon general, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, said there have not been any complaints about delayed mail delivery at other Army medical centers. Even so, she said she ordered an immediate review and inspections of mail room procedures and supervisory controls at other medical centers.