WASHINGTON – The Army officer in charge of overseeing treatment for troops suffering from brain injuries and psychological trauma has been reassigned until an internal investigation into his management of the office is completed, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.
Col. Robert Saum is being replaced as acting director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, the official said. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Saum has been accused by an office employee of unwanted sexual advances and creating a hostile workplace. The Pentagon inspector general is investigating.
In a brief statement, Dr. George Peach Taylor, director of the military's health care program, said Saum will report to Taylor's deputy, Rear Adm. Christine Hunter. Taylor did not address the allegations against Saum and did not say what Saum's duties would be in his new assignment.
Saum is a highly decorated officer with a doctorate in cognitive studies, according to his official military biography, which has been removed from the Defense Centers of Excellence website. Saum was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
Saum had been acting director of the Defense Centers of Excellence since late June. He replaced Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, who abruptly resigned amid heavy criticism on Capitol Hill that the office had not moved quickly enough to improve care for troops.
Injuries caused by roadside bombs and combat stress are the signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Defense Centers of Excellence is an umbrella office responsible for managing a network of specialty organizations that 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 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 catalog of what research has been done, what is being done and what needs to be done has not been realized," she said.
Saum will be replaced by Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, a civilian who has been serving as chief of force health protection and readiness programs.
Defense Centers of Excellence: http://www.dcoe.health.mil/DCoEv2/Default.aspx