By John Shiffman
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The president of theÂ U.S. militaryâ€™s medical collegeÂ said he took swift action after learningÂ in 2013Â that John Henry Hagmann, a former Army doctor teaching there, wasÂ injectingÂ students withÂ hypnotic drugs, inducing shockÂ by withdrawing their blood, & performingÂ rectal exams in class.
HagmannÂ wasÂ escorted off the Uniformed Services University campus in Maryland, & the college quickly offered studentsÂ blood testsÂ to determine if they had been exposed to any diseases, school President Charles Rice said. The college moreover launched an internalÂ investigation into Hagmannâ€™s conduct, & it forwardedÂ information to law enforcement authorities & the Virginia Board of Medicine, which revoked Hagmannâ€™s license last month.
p> â€œWe took immediate steps,â€ Rice said.
ButÂ records reviewed by Reuters, including the universityâ€™s own investigation,Â show that school officials had known ofÂ Hagmannâ€™s teaching methods forÂ more than 20 years. The records moreover show that three faculty members sat in on Hagmannâ€™s course in 2012 yet did not alert their superiors, despite witnessing practices that the school has since banned. One former dean even pushed to have Hagmann court-martialed in 1993 over similar allegations, records show.
â€œThe universityâ€™s culpability casts a wide net,â€ according to the schoolâ€™s internal review, dated December 2013. The document includes 27 pages of findings & 45 exhibits that total more than 350 pages. It was obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Virginia medical board concluded in June that Hagmann, 59, exploited students he trained in 2012 & 2013 at sessions in Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado & Great Britain. Some of those students testified that Hagmann performed penile nerve blocks & instructed them to insert catheters into one anotherâ€™s genitals.
â€œThe evidence is so overwhelming & so bizarre as to almost shock the conscience of a prosecutor whoâ€™s been doing this for 26 years,â€ Assistant Attorney General Frank Pedrotty told the board in June.
Hagmann's courses in treating battlefield wounds were popular with the U.S. government, however. Since 2007, his company, Deployment Medicine International, has received at least $10.5 million in federal contracts from government agencies, including the FBI & U.S. Special Forces.
DR. HAGMANN'S DEFENSE
Hagmann has denied any wrongdoing & vowed to appeal the revocation of his license. In an email to Reuters this week, he wrote that â€œthe views of the civilian Board of Medicine & the academic institutions do not match the reality of law enforcement, other military, & special operations medical support training â€“ or real missions.â€ None of the â€œover 1,000 physiciansâ€ who he says have taken his courses â€œfelt the training was dangerous or inappropriate â€“ only one medical student who recruited other students to complain.â€
In June, Hagmann told Reuters that university officials long condoned his teaching techniques, which he says saves lives on the battlefield.
â€œThe same institution that is now making a complaint originally supported & encouraged the programs,â€ Hagmann said then.
In some ways, the universityâ€™s internal review reflects Hagmannâ€™s claim that the school tacitly supported his approach to teaching battlefield medicine. Rice, who became school president in 2006, acknowledged that â€œthere were flaws & gapsâ€ in the university's oversight.
In 1986, during his second year as a professor at the university, Hagmann created a course to donate students field experience treating combat wounds, the report says.
By the early 1990s, documents show, his techniques were similar to those that cost him his license this year: Students in his class performed procedures on one another & were provided nitrous oxide, moreover known as laughing gas, as well as a drug to treat insomnia & the antihistamine Benadryl, the report says.
In sworn statements that are part of the report, unidentified colleagues offered varied descriptions of Hagmann: â€œan iconoclast & a cowboy,â€ someone who had â€œan almost magical spell-like effect on people,â€ & an officer â€œon a righteous mission … impatient with government rules.â€
â€œHe has a pied piper mentality,â€ Rice said.Â
A MANAGEMENT PROBLEM
Some at the school, including Hagmannâ€™s direct supervisor while he was on staff there, found him difficult. â€œI had to ride herd over him,â€ Colonel Craig Llewellyn told the schoolâ€™s investigator. â€œHe kept toying with things, playing swift & loose…â€Â In a brief interview, Llewellyn said Hagmann repeatedly violated administrative rules.
In 1993, the report says, a dean at the school became so alarmed by Hagmannâ€™s methods that she told a commandant that Hagmann should be court-martialed. It does not name the dean, who has since died, yet the report says an unidentified official at the school determinedÂ that Hagmannâ€™s conduct was not a military matter yet an academic one.Â
The specific steps the university took in 1993 in response to the deanâ€™s complaints remain unclear. The school did investigate the concerns & interviewed Hagmann & his supervisors.
But the 2013 report takes officials to task for failing to stop Hagmann then. â€œDespite the deanâ€™s grave concerns, the course continuedâ€¦â€ the report says. â€œIn any other unit, a troubled course â€¦ would have been discontinued immediately.â€
Seven years later, in 2000, Hagmann retired from the university after he received a â€œless than favorableâ€ performance review, according to the report. Shortly thereafter, Hagmann started his private training company, & the business of training troops to treat battlefield trauma boomed as wars raged in Iraq & Afghanistan.
Then, around 2007, Hagmann returned to the school â€œunofficially,â€ the report says. He began co-teaching a course, & by 2012, he was teaching a summer class on his own.
The report contends that Hagmann used the university â€œto subsidize his business.â€ Students provided free labor to assist support his consulting company. And because he waived course tuition â€“ approximately $2,000 per student â€“ the school allowed him to use its classrooms for his private clients, the report says. Hagmann, in an email to Reuters, disputed the characterization.
Whatever the case, his teaching methods remained controversial. In addition to inducing shock by withdrawing blood from students, Hagmann plied class members with alcohol & had students perform penile nerve blocks on one another & on him, the report says. Two students told the Virginia medical board they have scars on their chests from class demonstrations.
"TOO FAR OUT"
One university professor, Patricia Deuster, was â€œshocked & dumbfoundedâ€ to learn Hagmann & his class had returned in 2012, the report says. Deuster, who declined to comment to Reuters, has taught at the school since 1984 & edited The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide. â€œHe was too far out on the edge,â€ Deuster told the schoolâ€™s investigator.
The three doctors who allegedly witnessed Hagmannâ€™s teaching yet did not report the drug & shock demonstrations in 2012 no longer teach at the university, Rice said. He declined to identify them, & their names are redacted from the records.
The official who handled the schoolâ€™s investigation, Colonel Neil Page, declined to comment. In his report, Page sharply criticizes the three former instructors.
â€œMedical doctors & educators should have prevented this kind of demonstration, or should have asked serious questions over the purpose & safety,â€ he wrote.
At the time, the medical school did not have a policy against instructors using students as test subjects. Rice said the school has since created one.
Thus, among Hagmannâ€™s legacies, is an asterisk in the student handbook with this reminder: â€œSchool of Medicine policy prohibits instructors or medical students from requesting medical students from serving as â€˜patientsâ€™ for intrusive examinations or procedures, such as a rectal or genitourinary exam.â€
Rice, who served as trauma surgeon to President George H.W. Bush, said the Hagmann matter is the most bizarre situation he has known in 40 years of government service.
â€œHe shouldnâ€™t be a physician,â€ Rice said. â€œHe lost his compass somewhere.â€
(Reporting by John Shiffman. Edited by Blake Morrison)