EDEN — Gen. George Weightman, fired by the army this week over poor conditions at a Walter Reed outpatient facility that treated Iraq war soldiers, is a native Vermonter with roots in this tiny northern town that was chartered as a retirement settlement for the Green Mountain Boys. Weightman was born and raised in Eden Mills, a tiny village within a town of 1,200 people in northern Lamoille County known for its rocky and mountainous terrain and picturesque lakes and rivers. "George was an Eagle Scout, active in his church, member of the student council and played sports," said Kelly Daige, a high school friend whose brother married Weightman's sister. "He was popular, charismatic and the kind of person we would look to as a leader." Which is why Daige has a hard time believing that Weightman was responsible for the poor conditions at a Walter Reed outpatient facility, where returning soldiers receive long-term care. The scandal, now the subject of probes by Congress and President Bush, came to light following a Washington Post story last month. "He's a scapegoat," she said. "These problems have existed for years and they fire him because he hasn't fixed them in his first six months on the job." There was more fallout from the scandal Friday. The Associated Press reported that Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey abruptly stepped down — the most dramatic move yet in an escalating series of departures of military commanders with medical oversight responsibilities. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Harvey had resigned, but senior defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the AP Gates had asked Harvey to leave. During the nearly four decades that Weightman was in the military — a career that began when he enrolled in the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., in the late 1960s — he served in war zones from Bosnia to Iraq and earned more than a dozen medals and badges. A physician and surgeon since receiving a doctorate of medicine from the University of Vermont in 1982, Weightman was appointed commander of Walter Reed and North Atlantic Regional Medical Center in August 2006. His tenure was short. Weightman was fired by the Army on Thursday, less than two weeks after the Post exposed shoddy conditions, including severe mold problems and pest infestations, at a Walter Reed facility called Building 18. A U.S. House subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing at Walter Reed on Monday, followed by a similar probe in the U.S. Senate. President Bush, under criticism for proposing cuts to the Veteran's Administration in his next budget, called Friday for a review of all army and veterans' medical facilities. Vermont's Rep. Peter Welch, who has called for investigations and who serves on the subcommittee holding Monday's hearing, said Weightman has been subpoenaed to appear but it's unclear if the Pentagon will allow him to speak. "This type of stonewalling does not build confidence," said Welch, who also enlisted 43 freshman representatives this week to sign a letter asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Congress' watchdog arm, to investigate Bush's long-term care plans for troops. "It remains to be seen" if Weightman is responsible for the poor conditions, Welch said, adding that "common sense would indicate" that some issues predated Weightman's short tenure. If Weightman does appear before the subcommittee, Welch said he wants to ask him "who knew what when" and why nothing was done about the problems earlier. "The apparent conditions there seem to stem from the culture of disrespect to our troops," Welch said. "I suspect that these were longstanding issues that precede [Weightman's] time." Terrance Naumann, a friend and UVM classmate of Weightman's who also graduated with a medical degree in 1982, said the allegations against Weightman are hard to believe. Naumann, a family physician in the Williston area, said he recalls an "upstanding guy" in the mold of the classic, stoic "plain old Vermonter." He said Weightman gave his adult life to the army and medicine and wouldn't betray those ideals. "I know George so well that this strikes me as completely out of character for him not to uphold the standards that he is expected to," Naumann said. "He's always been great to his patients and really dedicated to the field of medicine." Daige said she believes Weightman was fired, at least in part, because he told Bush administration officials that proposed budget cuts would slow the recovery of wounded soldiers and veterans. She said he was trying to fix problems in the army medical system. "This administration doesn't understand what the soldiers and veterans are facing," Daige said. "George was trying to warn them that the number of casualties and injuries would continue to climb in the future." Contact Daniel Barlow at daniel.barlow@rutlandherald.com.

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