WASHINGTON – Army officials promised Wednesday to convene a review group to investigate poor quality-of-life conditions at two military medical facilities treating wounded soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once it is underway, the group has 45 days to report its findings on poor living conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. They will report to the secretaries of the Army and Navy and the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
"We will do what's right for our soldiers and their families. And our soldiers and their families need to know that the Army leadership is committed and dedicated to ensure that the quality of life and the quality of their medical care is equal to their quality of service and sacrifice," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said at a Pentagon press conference.
"I'll take responsibility. I'm the vice chief of the Army and I'll make sure it's fixed," he said.
Officials responded after reports by The Washington Post of a deteriorating environment at the 113-acre institution that serves as a surgical hospital and rehabilitation facility for Army soldiers. Problems were reported to be worst at "Building 18," which houses hundreds of soldiers recovering from battle wounds, and reportedly is mired in mold and soiled carpets as well as mouse and cockroach infestations.
Cody called the problems — including the failure to have proper inspections — "inexcusable" and blamed the situation on a breakdown in leadership. He said he will personally oversee upgrades at Building 18.
"We were absolutely disappointed in the status of the rooms and found the delays and lack of attention to detail to the building's repairs inexcusable," Cody said "Referring to a place where our soldiers say as Building 18 is not appropriate. We own that building and are going to take charge of it."
Despite the inferior conditions, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the news took him by surprise.
"We all share in the responsibility and accountability. We accept that accountability. One of the matters I hope to learn about is why the problems and concerns were not raised up. I never received concerns from a soldier or family member," Winkenwerder said.
No one has been relieved of command or fired, Cody said, but he did not rule that out.
"We will do the right thing across the board as we continue to assess where leadership failure and breakdowns were. In some cases, I'll just say as plainly as I can, we had people put in charge who did not have, in my mind, in my experience, the right rank and the right experience and authority to be able to execute some of the missions that was required," he said.
Wednesday's press conference followed letters sent Tuesday by three Democratic lawmakers to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urging him to respond to the reports of poor conditions. Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York called for quick repairs.
"If conditions at Walter Reed, the crown jewel of military health care facilities, have degraded to the point where mouse traps are handed out to patients, how can we feel confident that our troops and veterans truly have the care and transition assistance they have been promised at any facility across the country?" Mikulski and Murray wrote.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., also requested that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., hold an oversight hearing at Walter Reed.
On Tuesday, the White House responded to repeated questions from reporters, saying President Bush is concerned about the report.
"The president first learned of the troubling allegations regarding Walter Reed from the stories this weekend in The Washington Post. He is deeply concerned and wants any problems identified and fixed," reads a White House statement.
Bush spokesman Tony Snow said the Department of Defense is reviewing the allegations in response to the Post's series entitled, "The Other Walter Reed."
"The men and women who have gone and fought for our country over there, they deserve the best care," Snow said.
FOX News' Nick Simeone contributed to this report.