DOD brain injury office chief under investigation
WASHINGTON (AP) – The director of the Pentagon office overseeing the treatment of troops suffering from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder is under investigation for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances and creating a hostile work environment, The Associated Press has learned.
The inquiry of Army Col. Robert W. Saum’s conduct comes just a few months after his predecessor abruptly resigned. Lawmakers had criticized the office for not moving quickly enough to improve care for troops with brain injuries and psychological trauma, the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Saum was traveling in London and could not be reached for comment, his executive assistant said. He was appointed acting director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Injury in late June when Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton left the post. The office’s rapid turnover and the current investigation are likely to draw more criticism from Capitol Hill.
In an e-mailed statement, Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said “there was recently a complaint against Col. Saum relating to personnel management,” but she provided no further details. The complaint “was very promptly referred for appropriate investigation, which is proceeding,” she wrote. Smith also said the process for selecting a new director is proceeding.
A Defense Department official familiar with the case said Saum has been accused by an employee in the office of unwanted sexual advances and creating a hostile workplace. The complaint was filed in August with the department’s inspector general, said the official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive information related to an ongoing investigation.
Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the Pentagon inspector general’s office, said that as a matter of policy the office does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
Saum is a highly decorated officer with a doctorate in cognitive studies, according to his official military biography.
The Defense Centers for Excellence is an umbrella office responsible for managing a network of specialty organizations to handle the growing number and severity of the wounds being caused by roadside bombs and the stress of combat. The injuries often require long-term rehabilitation and the goal is to harness all the medical treatment, research and expertise required for helping troops and their families recover.
Congress ordered establishment of the office three years ago. At a congressional hearing in April, Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said the center has fallen short of what lawmakers’ envisioned despite an ample budget. Davis, chairwoman of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee, acknowledged the “monumental scale” of the effort. But she also said “management missteps” have been made.
“The Defense Center of Excellence, while having achieved some notable small-scale successes, has not inspired great confidence or enthusiasm thus far,” she said. “The desire that the center become the pre-eminent catalogue of what research has been done, what is being done and what needs to be done has not been realized,” she said.