dave-mittlemanThe leader of the Pentagon’s program for the treatment of brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorders suddenly stepped down from her post last Monday.  Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, who created the premiere program in 2007, told staff members at the Defense Centers of Excellence that she was giving up her position as director amidst news reports and criticism from Congress that the military is failing to diagnose and treat soldiers with “mild” brain injuries or concussions.

Simultaneous with the announcement, the Pentagon is preparing to open a new state-of-the-art multi-million dollar showcase treatment facility outside of Washington, D.C. for troops with brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder, the hallmark injuries of soldiers in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In addition the Pentagon opened the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a treatment center outside of Bethesda, MD that features futuristic virtual reality treatment rooms and waving glass.  However, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, who was scheduled to appear at that opening, cancelled at the last minute, once again arousing questions about the disarray within the program. 

Nevertheless, Cathy Haight, the spokesperson for the Defense Centers of Excellence, recently stated that Sutton’s departure was simply part of a routine command rotation.  Despite her claims, Sutton’s leaving is still way ahead of schedule and in recent months legislators have questioned Sutton’s ability to carry out the mission of the DCOE, which is to catalyze research and treatment across the military for soldiers returning with brain injuries and psychological trauma. 

Congress ordered the military to create brain and psychological trauma treatment centers in 2008 and Sutton fulfilled this goal.  However, at an April hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) argued that the center had failed to fully accomplish its goals.  In addition, Sutton came under further scrutiny earlier this month when NPR and ProPublica reported that the military has failed to diagnose and treat thousands of soldiers with brain injuries or psychological trauma and even soldiers who were properly diagnosed struggled to find proper treatment.  While such injuries may not show visible scars, they can still create lasting mental and physical difficulties. 

Regardless of the criticism, some veterans’ advocates are shocked and saddened to see Sutton leave, hailing her as a forceful, visible advocate for wounded troops and their families.  Furthermore, in an April interview with NPR and Propublica, Sutton shrugged off the criticism, stating: “leading change is a journey not for the faint of heart”.