ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

Troubles Plague Top Job at Pentagon Office Overseeing Brain Injuries

.

Army Col. Robert Saum. (Department of Defense)

Three months after a shakeup in leadership at the Pentagon center that oversees the treatment of troops with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders, the office’s new director is being investigated by the Defense Department Inspector General's Office.

According to the Associated Press, the director, Army Col. Robert Saum, has been accused by an employee of making unwanted sexual advances and creating a hostile work environment.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith confirmed to us that the department is in the process of appointing a new director. Saum has been reassigned from his duties until the investigation is completed, according to a statement from the Pentagon's top health official, Dr. George Peach Taylor. A new interim director, Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, has been assigned to the post until an appointment is made.

Saum took the job as director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Injury, or DCE, after his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, unexpectedly resigned in June after congressional criticism that followed our story.

As USA Today, ProPublica and NPR have reported, the military’s medical system has failed to diagnose and properly treat tens of thousands of soldiers with mild traumatic brain injuries, one of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s what we reported:

Some senior Army medical officers remain skeptical that mild traumatic brain injuries are responsible for soldiers' troubles with memory, concentration and mental focus.

Civilian research shows that an estimated 5 percent to 15 percent of people with mild traumatic brain injury have persistent difficulty with such cognitive problems.

Around the time of Sutton’s resignation, lawmakers were pressing the military on the shortcomings in its efforts to address traumatic brain injuries and other medical and behavioral ailments affecting troops.

A spokeswoman for Sutton originally suggested that Sutton was simply planning to retire of her own accord. But a few days later a Pentagon spokeswoman told ProPublica and NPR that Sutton left because “a change in leadership was necessary to continue moving the organization forward.”

The investigation into the centers' current director — and the possibility of a new one soon — would mean yet another shakeup in leadership for the three-year-old office, which lawmakers have, in the past, criticized for “management missteps.”

Saum could not be reached for comment by the AP. His executive assistant said he was traveling. We also tried to reach Saum, and he did not immediately return our requests for comment.

ProPublica's T. Christian Miller contributed to this report.

The focus should be on the solutions, not political drama.  Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has proven to work. The less we focus on politics, the more we can move forward to implement programs that are proving to be effective.  If a veteran has been injured by an IED during combat in Iraq of Afghanistan - there is a Neurologist in Tucson, Arizone treating veterans for free.  Go to YouTube and enter “Dr. Carol Henricks” - she will be testifying before Congress this fall to show her evidence that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy works!  This is the solutions, let’s focus on this.  Not politics, please.

Regards,

John
U.S. Army Veteran

so “colonel” Saum is “reassigned?” really? is that code for set to one side, on full pay, until he can be slam-dunked thru the retirement system and enjoy a lavish retirement package of (cumulatively) millions of taxpayer dollars in pay and benefits? COLAed?
awful. if found guilty he should be criminally charged and the women he tormented should begin immediate civil proceedings to strip him of every dime he has.
he should have his rank stripped, lose his commission and spend significant time in the brig. a few go-rounds in the group shower should show him a thing or two about being “one down” in the sexual power dynamic (so to speak.) dude, don’t drop the soap.
several decades of the brig will teach him a lesson and help the military (finally) learn that women are not there as playthings for the men. totally resent every last taxpayer dollar that has been paid to this lizard to date.
make him a pariah so he is barred from a lame ‘consulting’ job at a no-colonel-left-behind military contractor.
jail time! big time!

Thank you John for the Utube link to Dr. Henricks Oxygen Therapy.  I’m passing this along to Veterans Groups in Vontra Costa County Ca as well as private groups who do other types of outreach for Veterans.  My Son will be home in Nov after his 4th Tour.  Thanks for the valuable information.

Kathie - you’re welcome.  According to Dr. Paul G. Harch…To date, the medical community does not have a treatment for brain injuries, plus there are “zero” drugs approved by the FDA to treat Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) - however, veterans are being heavily medicated with ‘black label’ warnings, resulting in a suicide epidemic.  I produced a short documentary in film school - to view the film - go to: http://www.reelshowint.com (scroll down to Top 10 Student Portfolio Films) and click on “Brain Storm: Oxgyen Under Pressure.”

John is absolutely right on point here… I am a military member and I have a severe Traumatic Brain Injury, Right-Sided Hemiparesis (partially paralyzed), PTSD, as well as other medical/mental issues. The VA in an utmost careful way basically told me that there was no possibility for help, as no standard of care for a brain injury has ever existed.

Well, I think back on the arguments I had with myself at that time about what was going to happen next? The interesting thing is I was making these arguments before I discovered Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. You see, I was making awful, selfish, decision about killing myself before I had the cognitive and executive skills to properly solve even the most basic of tasks, never mind one that would certainly and viciously affect my loving family and friends. Luckily, I met Dr. Carol Henricks who explained to me very carefully that right now, she has the power to help me. Well, she certainly did…and right now, people like John and Carol out there fighting every day so that Veterans can know about and seek the proper (and hopefully accessible) help.

The political criticisms that are holding up real progress in Washington D.C. are about what and who today? The Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act (which will will help HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of veterans from OIF and OEF as well as civilians) is going before Congress, as we speak. Please, lets all be adults about this put away selfishness and childishness so we can help people (other than ourselves).

Peter, I’m glad you posted your experience.  My Son (different last name) is Ranger.  I’ve met many of his buddies since day 1 in the Army.  my Son drives from Ga to Walter Reed when he is home to visit a special buddy and this information about how this has helped you can only beco e more widely available with anecdotal, film documentary such as John’s and peer reviewed articles.  after I researched this today the next hurdle is to get well documented studies which will take time. In the meantime I think that there should be private funding as well as grant money available to assist in this important field.  No amount of effort or expense should be spared in promoting he sling of the brain and other injuries with this treatment.  I am thinking about mobilization methods and I’m reminded of what has taken place in the past ten years in field of cancer for multiple myeloma (blood cancer).  A young woman named Kathy became I’ll with this and she and her twin sister and many friends at Harvard Business school with her created a worldwide hunt for treatments and established protocols.  At the time there was no treatment no survivors period.  Death would come within 3-12 months.  Today there are over 80,000 survivors growing each year. My Son’s Dad received analogous stem cell transplant at Stanford recommended by Kaiser/paid by joint agreement with Stanford.  he is 2+ year survivor.  Mobilization on a large scale could be possible by starting a networked group.  I’d be interested in helping.  I’ve asked for an email if I receive a response back.  Good luck John and Peter nice to meet more Army Warriors, k

John Salcedo

Sep. 30, 2010, 1 a.m.

Kathie, thanks for sharing.  Please visit http://www.HBOT.com for more info and contact information for Dr. Harch’s clinic.  He has been doing HBOT research since the 80’s, treating TBI.

Dr. Carol Henricks

Sep. 30, 2010, 1:40 p.m.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy ( HBOT )  has been the first treatment that has been demonstrated to improve the outcome in brain injured patients. SPECT scans are used to demonstrate improvements in brain metabolism and functional recovery follows.  There is a lot of information out there if you look on the internet, youtube and at books at AMAZON.com.  Dr. Harch and Dr. Neubauer ( now deceased ) have been blazing the trail.  HBOT is also used in Europe, particularly for acute stroke.

It really pains me to see where our military has taken our young men and women who are volunteers fighting in a warring country we have no place in….I watched a video last night that brought more meaning to this story; about the deadliest place in the world, in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan….This is someplace our Commander in Chief said we belonged, now we are destroying the minds of our soldiers and more are dying everyday….I never have agreed with the two wars we have fought over there and to know that PTSD of Vietnam is going to be a stepping stone to our returning soldiers…Our government needs to pull out of the Middle East: Israel has been granted permission by Saudi Arabia to fly to Iran, we are boycotting Iran, Afghanistan has major riches just below the surface, and China has a Mongolian oilfield to support their energy needs….We need to focus on America for once…..

For real? Do we really stoop so low as to try and convict a person in the court of public opinion, without collecting evidence, without giving them the chance to defend themselves?

Why not also examine the source of said allegations against Dr. Saum?  Not suggesting that its okay to impune allegations of harrassment, but, exploring the motivation of the accuser (in this case the accused doesn’t even get to know who his accuser/accusers is/are!) Why aren’t any of you asking hard questions about what steps (or missteps) led to his being put in charge of the Defense Center in the first place?

In particular, are there questions that have gone unasked, allegations of wrong doing by BGen Sutton swept under the rug in order to “keep from embarrassing” the military leadership and her chain of command (particularly the US Army Surgeon General)?  Why is Dr. Sutton being allowed to retire (at the rank of Brigader Genral) five months before she is eligible?  Who approved this waiver of military retirement rules?  Why is her retirement ceremony being held at the National Naval Medical Center Memorial Auditorium(Friday 29 October, 3 pm) in a semi-private setting . . . instead of an Army location (i.e., Walter Reed, Fort McNair, or Fort Belvoir, for example)? 

Could it be that the military leadership has offered a “quid-pro-quo” with Dr. Sutton in order to keep her from taking to the press about military missteps in examining traumatic brain injury?  Or . . . hitting closer to home, is this a concerted attempt to “cover up” the unexplored, “non-investigation” allegations of a inappropriate relationship between Sutton and a 22-year old enlisted Marine Corps Sergeant under her command? 

If the US military is really interested in what is going on at the Defense Center, they’d look at exactly WHO is making allegations against people like Dr. Saum and what their motivations are. . . one has to wonder if this is all just a smoke screen to divert attention away from yet another “fallen general”?

For one, I reserve judgement of both COL Saum and BG Sutton until all unanswered (and unasked) questions are resolved.

This is speculation, but I suspect that a great many fairly obscure, but solidly documented therapies could help people with brain injuries.

If I was a physician or caregiver for a person with a brain injury, i would look into the following. Many are quite inexpensive.

Inosine, and also the combination of acetyl-l-carnitine and arginine may help regenerate some damaged neural connections. (these are separate bodies of research)

Inosine shows promise for people with spinal damage. Its dirt cheap.

Resveratrol may help - again, can be quite inexpensive. It also prevents many kinds of cancers..

Fish oil- the brain is basically mostly lipids.. the major lipid is DHA..

Many phytonutrients, for example, the active constituent in turmeric (part of curry powder) are neuroprotective..

Piracetam.. (off patent, 40 year track record) is probably very helpful.. again, this is a guess.. I have no medical training, am not a doctor.. etc.

Exercise.. Social contact.. - EXTREMELY important..

Fresh air.. absolutely crucial.. that means powered ventilation or an open window..

The air in many US buildings is heavily polluted with hundreds of chemicals, mold, you name it.. An HRV - a powered ventilation system that exhanges heat - that can run 24/7 year round, is a good investment.. they are mandatory on all new construction- in CANADA.. here.. nobody knows anything about them.. we are in serious denial..

There is a very large connection between the gut and the brain.. injured people often dont get exercise and their enteric nervous system, their gut’s “brain” atrophies, causing a buildup of toxic bacterial and fungal metabolites and endotoxins in the gut.. Gut motility is essential.. also I suspect low doses of a bile sequestrant like cholestyramine might help accelerate brain healing.. Also, some research has shown that TENS units (electrical stimulation) may be able to restore some damaged gut motility.. If i was a doctor, I’d be looking into that!

Resveratrol, taurine, acetyl-l-carnitine all can help that process..too, for different reasons..

The person who mentioned hyperbaric oxygen therapy is right..

The Air Force and Navy use it for their pilots.. obviously, since it costs millions to train a pilot, they would not do that if it was not helpful.. but US HMOs wont pay for anything like that.. basically, the US increasingly has the medical care of a Third World country at First World prices.

The price of the hardware has been falling steadily.. Why does an MRI that costs $99 in Japan and $190 in the EU cost $3000 here?

When I asked that question a few months ago, somebody I know responded with “the only people who pay $3000 are the uninsured”.. But that wasn’t an acceptable answer.. and the insured often can’t get MRIs without pretending they are uninsured and paying out of pocket…

Go figure. its a case of “if we dont know about it, we can avoid paying for it”

Why not use HBOT for all appropriate brain injuries? All thats involved is a metal tank and a tank of oxygen and some instruments..

That seems to me to be a no-brainer..

if it works, use it..

HBOT works.

there is another therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation that MAY help some people..  Go to PubMed and do a search on that phrase or the letters “TMS”.. again, just speculation..  Again, I would suspect it could be delivered quite inexpensively as the hardware should not be expensive to build..its just an oscillator, an audio frequency amplifier and a specially shaped electromagnetic coil..

we have to be much more creative and less greed-driven or this nation is in serious, serious trouble.

Chris - the good news about HBOT is the new legislation (HR 4568) included under the Defense Authorization Bill, is expected to pass through the Senate this year.  This will allow veterans access to HBOT - at government expense.  Dr. Bill Duncan is the author of HR 4568.

If you or a family member is a veteran suffering from a brain injury caused by an IED - The HBOT clinical trials phone number is: 800.288.9328. the website is: http://www.nbirr.org

Prospective soldiers worldwide should be required to take a class and a test on the long term torturous consequences of even mild tbi.  One might think they are willing to die for their respective country, but I doubt anyone would sign up for a sentence of the long slow torturous death that brain-injured person’s life turns out to be. Someone who was once vibrant but can no longer live free and didn’t die.  If such a class was competently instructed, then I doubt the insulated world leaders who start the wars (but never fight in them - nor do their children) would have any soldiers with which to conduct their ugly wars.  But there’s a sucker born every minute, and they know that, and they know they’re young, brave, and not worldly or sensible enough yet.  And they take advantage of their naivete, and they ruin them for good.  And they don’t care one bit about them or the irreversible misery they inflict on them.  We have the right to bear arms in this country.  That’s a lot of arms.  When they come to our soil to take away our lives, then let’s fight and get the brain injuries and never before then.

Inosine may also be helpful for people who have had traumatic brain injuries. It promotes axonal rewiring.

Add a comment

Email me when someone responds to this article.
This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Brain Wars

Brain Wars: How the Military Is Failing Its Wounded

The military has failed to diagnose brain injuries in thousands of soldiers returning from overseas.

The Story So Far

Traumatic brain injury is considered the “signature wound” of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Official military statistics show that more than 115,000 soldiers have suffered mild traumatic brain injuries since the wars began. Shock waves from roadside bombs can ripple through soldiers’ brains, causing damage that sometimes leaves no visible scars but may cause lasting mental and physical harm.

More »

Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.

optional