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Army suspends JBLM-based general who was its top doctor in the West

The Army has suspended its top doctor overseeing medical care in 20 Western states while it conducts an investigation into his leadership.

Army officials would not describe the allegations that led to Brig. Gen. John Cho’s suspension, except to say the inquiry by the Army inspector general was “centered on the command climate of the organization.” They said it was not related to patient care or safety.

The Western Regional Medical Command is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Madigan Army Medical Center is its largest hospital.

As of Thursday, Cho was suspended from his command but continues to serve in Army medicine at JBLM, said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Tempel Jr., chief of the Army dental corps, is to take Cho’s place leading the regional medical command while the investigation is conducted, said command spokeswoman Sharon Ayala.

Cho was named to his post a year ago. He appeared to be a rising star, a one-star general taking control of a headquarters that is normally held by a two-star general. As recently as Wednesday, he was representing the medical command at public events in the South Sound.

A cardiothoracic surgeon, Cho has held a number of prestigious posts in Army medicine, such as commanding Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the hospital in Germany that cares for casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cho graduated from West Point in 1984. In 2013 he became the first active-duty soldier of Korean descent to earn a promotion to brigadier general. His father, Shin Hyung Cho, fought with the Republic of Korea during the Korean War.

Cho took command of the Western medical headquarters in late October 2013 with a charge to expand preventive care and to streamline the administration of Defense Department hospitals in the Puget Sound, including ones run by the Navy. The regional headquarters oversees 11 Army hospitals and 11 warrior transition battalions.

He was suspended by Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, a former commander of the Western Regional Medical Command and of Madigan.

At the time of his promotion to general, Horoho described Cho as an officer with the “right balance of character to include competence, compassion, credibility, courage and selfless service.”

Suspensions often are viewed as career-killing measures in the military. In May, the Army removed Col. Steven Brewster from his post leading the hospital at Fort Bragg, N.C., following two sudden patient deaths. Brewster is awaiting retirement orders.*

In 2012, Horoho suspended former Madigan Commander Col. Dallas Homas while the Army looked into complaints about hospital forensic psychiatrists changing soldiers’ mental-health diagnoses late in the medical retirement process.

That investigation led to significant changes in how the Army diagnoses post-traumatic stress disorder, but Homas weathered the scrutiny and returned to command the hospital later that year.

In late May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a systemwide review of military medicine in the wake of complaints about patient care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The report was due at the end of August.

His order coincided with the publication of several New York Times stories that scrutinized care provided by Army hospitals, drawing attention to error rates that outpaced civilian alternatives.

*An earlier version of this story said that Col. Steven Brewster had retired since he was suspended from command of the Army hospital at Fort Bragg. He was removed from command and is on active-duty until his retirement orders are finalized.

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