Troubles Plague Top Job at Pentagon Office Overseeing Brain Injuries
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 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.