While the Army considers what, if any, disciplinary actions to take against those who directed the medical training of MAJ Nidal Hasan—the accused Fort Hood shooter—one psychiatrist’s legal counsel faults the military for blaming a handful of officers for a broader institutional failing.
“The history of the Department of Defense, when dealing with broad-based problems within the department, is to isolate and vilify a few individuals,” said Gary Myers, a lawyer representing COL Charles Engel, a psychiatrist.
Last January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered an independent review panel to investigate the “noncriminal” aspects of the shooting that left 13 dead and 32 wounded. The panel concluded “that some medical officers failed to apply appropriate judgment and standards of officership with respect to the alleged perpetrator” and failed to include the alleged perpetrator’s overall performance as an officer, rather than solely his academic performance in his formal performance evaluation.
Subsequently, an accountability review was conducted to determine whether leaders were negligent in their supervision of Hasan. That report is currently under legal review.
Recent press accounts specify that the military plans to formally discipline officers, mostly from Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and the Uniformed Services University and Health Sciences (USUHS). Senior Army officials reportedly told The Wall Street Journal “that as many as 8 officers could ultimately be censured over MAJ Hasan, mostly with letters of reprimand that effectively end their military careers.”
When asked about possible disciplinary actions, Gary Tallman, an Army Public Affairs spokesperson, said, “These are very sensitive issues and because of the legalities involved we cannot comment on actions that may or may not take place.”
The same system that delivered this alleged shooter has trained thousands of highly proficient practitioners.
Administrative letters of reprimand (LOR) as mentioned in the Journal article do not automatically end one’s career, said George Wright of Army Public Affairs. He added that promotion and selection boards consider the totality of an officer’s career and a soldier can refute an LOR. “There are officers who continue to serve and some who are even promoted with such letters,” he said.
Evidence trickling out in the media indicates that several psychiatrists who trained and supervised Hasan at times were concerned about his performance and tried to warn and guide him. An Associated Press story reported that while Hasan was a medical student at USUHS from 1997 to 2003, he received “a string of below average and failing grades, was put on academic probation and showed little motivation to learn.” Yet this information was not included in his military personnel file.
As a psychiatry intern and resident at WRAMC from 2003 to 2007, Hasan was counseled frequently for deficiencies in his performance, attendance, and attitude. After completing a fellowship in preventive and disaster psychiatry at USUHS in 2009, Hasan was transferred to Fort Hood.
During the Fort Hood investigations, COL Engel, assistant chair of research at USUHS’ psychiatry department and director of Hasan’s psychiatry fellowship, received an e-mail saying he could be the target of an investigation, his attorney told Psychiatric Times. But to date, Engel has not been notified of any disciplinary or adverse action to be taken by the Army.
Photo by Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman