Walter Reed Officials Raised Concerns About Hasan

Many advisers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had concerns about Nidal Hasan's job performance and behavior, yet time and time again, officials gave him another chance. NPR's Daniel Zwerdling has spoken with top officials there, and tells host Melissa Block new details about Hasan's work at Walter Reed.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Im Melissa Block.

There are troubling new details today about the career of the Army psychiatrist accused in last weeks shootings at Fort Hood. NPR has learned that there was a series of worried meetings and conversations about Nidal Hasan, starting in 2007. Top officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center took part, so did supervisors from his government fellowship program. The topic of those conversations: What should we do about Nidal Hasan and could he do harm?

NPRs Daniel Zwerdling has been talking with psychiatrists and officials at Walter Reed and the fellowship program, officials who worked with Hasan or monitored committees that oversaw his work, they all refuse to be identified because theres an ongoing criminal investigation. Danny, what have these sources told you?

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Melissa, picture this. More than a year and a half before Hasan allegedly went on that rampage at Fort Hood, the officials who supervised him sat around wondering, could Nidal Hasan be psychotic? One of his key supervisors at Walter Reed reportedly told colleagues, Im worried that if Hasan deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, he might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. And another one of Hasans supervisors reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues: I wonder if Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide?

BLOCK: You know, could he actually kill fellow soldiers?

ZWERDLING: Yes, exactly.

BLOCK: And why didnt officials do something that if these were the concerns?

ZWERDLING: Well, my interview suggests there was a whole chain of basically unrelated events and factors that deterred them from taking action.

BLOCK: Okay, were going to talk about that chain of events in a minute, but first, lets talk about this. A timeline really, when exactly did officials really start crystallizing their worries about Nidal Hasan?

ZWERDLING: It really started coming to ahead in March of 2007. Back then, a new psychiatrist took over as the, you know, big boss of the psychiatric residents of Walter Reed. His name is Major Scott Moran. By the way, like all the others, Moran told me, no way, he cant talk. But Morans colleagues told me that he reviewed all the staffs personal files as any new boss does, right? And he was shocked by what he read about Hasan. I mean, supervisors have been reprimanding Hasan for years for doing a bad job. And Moran said to his colleagues, I want to get rid of the guy.

BLOCK: And as we now know that that didnt happened, Hasan was not removed. Why not?

ZWERDLING: The way my sources tell the story, Moran went to two key committees that have to approve it when you want to expel a resident. And those committees said, forget it. You know, theres a very long and cumbersome process for getting rid of a doctor, a resident. Hasan could have hired a lawyer, thered be hearings. The case might drag on and on and on. So, officials told Moran, Im told, look, Hasan is about to leave Walter Reed anyway on a fellowship, lets hope for the best and see how he does there.

BLOCK: Which brings us to what, the fall of 2007, Nidal Hasan goes on to get a masters in public health?

ZWERDLING: Right. He went to a government school called USUHS, thats the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. And right away, the professors and supervisors there were upset with Hasan. We obtained documents from USUHS. And they show that supervisors and professors that his main research project was terrible. They gave him a lousy evaluation.

And at this point, Melissa, they became really troubled about his state of mind. When I asked people to describe Hasan, they keep using the same word, its interesting: disconnected, aloof, a loner, belligerent and sometimes super polite.

Well, then in January 2008, Hasan turned in a paper that really got people worried because they thought it was basically a disjointed religious diatribe and some key officials sat around wondering, could he be descending into psychosis?

BLOCK: At any point in these discussions, did Nidal Hasans supervisors say, you need a mental health evaluation? You need psychotherapy?

ZWERDLING: Amazingly, Ive asked and my sources say, no.

BLOCK: Danny, were talking about a guy here whos going to be treating troops coming back from the war with serious mental health problems. He actually had, at the time, already been treating some of the soldiers. His supervisors, as youre describing it, are worrying that he might be psychotic. Still, as you said, nobody took action.

ZWERDLING: I know. Its puzzling. First of all, there is a long and complicated process I mentioned about, you know, trying to kick out a doctor, okay. Plus, you know, all those media reports about Hasan felt some soldiers harassed him for being Muslim.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

ZWERDLING: Right? Well, it turns out that some of his supervisors and instructors did the opposite. They told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him despite all his problems because, number one, they didnt have firm evidence that he was unstable. Number two, they kept searching their own souls. The instructors wondered what if were discriminating against this guy because were uncomfortable with his religious views.

Oh, and one more thing, Melissa. These officials told colleagues that they did not know anything about those emails that Hasan was reportedly sending to an alleged Islamic extremist overseas. You know, intelligence agency say, they told some people at Walter Reed, but these officials claim they did not hear it.

BLOCK: And ultimately, the military transfers Nidal Hasan to work as a psychiatrist at Fort Hood in Texas.

ZWERDLING: And guess what? They agree that Hasan should go some place where he couldnt really hurt anything. So, they sent him to Fort Hood. Why Fort Hood? Well, it turns out that Fort Hood has more psychiatrists and mental health specialists than most Army bases, or at least than many. And the officials figured thered be plenty of co-workers who could support Hasan and monitor him. Listen to this, one official I spoke with yesterday said, we all hoped Hasan would sort of disappear at Fort Hood.

BLOCK: NPRs Daniel Zwerdling. Thank you very much.

ZWERDLING: Thank you.

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Walter Reed Officials Asked: Was Hasan Psychotic?

Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years. i i

Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years. Hasan was transferred to Texas in July. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years.

Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years. Hasan was transferred to Texas in July.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Heard On 'All Things Considered'

Starting in the spring of 2008, key officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences held a series of meetings and conversations, in part about Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others last week during a shooting spree at Fort Hood. One of the questions they pondered: Was Hasan psychotic?

"Put it this way," says one official familiar with the conversations that took place. "Everybody felt that if you were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not want Nidal Hasan in your foxhole."

In documents reviewed by NPR and conversations with medical officials at Walter Reed and USUHS, new details have emerged regarding serious concerns that officials raised about Hasan during his time at both institutions.

Hasan spent six years as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed, beginning in 2003, and he had a fellowship at USUHS until shortly before he went to Fort Hood in the summer of 2009. A committee of officials from both places regularly meets once a month to discuss pressing topics surrounding the psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who train and work at the institutions.

NPR spoke with military psychiatrists and officials who worked closely with Hasan, as well as those who monitored the committee and/or student and faculty matters. None would allow their names to be used, because of the criminal investigation into the Fort Hood shootings.

A portrait taken of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in 2007 i i

A portrait taken of Hasan upon entering the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship program in 2007. Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP
A portrait taken of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in 2007

A portrait taken of Hasan upon entering the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship program in 2007.

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP

Deeply Troubling, Schizoid Behavior

When a group of key officials gathered in the spring of 2008 for their monthly meeting in a Bethesda, Md., office, one of the leading — and most perplexing — items on their agenda was: What should we do about Hasan?

Hasan had been a trouble spot on officials' radar since he started training at Walter Reed, six years earlier. Several officials confirm that supervisors had repeatedly given him poor evaluations and warned him that he was doing substandard work.

Both fellow students and faculty were deeply troubled by Hasan's behavior — which they variously called disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent, and schizoid. The officials say he antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views. His supervisors at Walter Reed had even reprimanded him for telling at least one patient that "Islam can save your soul."

Participants in the spring meeting and in subsequent conversations about Hasan reportedly included John Bradley, chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed; Robert Ursano, chairman of the Psychiatry Department at USUHS; Charles Engel, assistant chair of the Psychiatry Department and director of Hasan's psychiatry fellowship; Dr. David Benedek, another assistant chairman of psychiatry at USUHS; psychiatrist Carroll J. Diebold; and Scott Moran, director of the psychiatric residency program at Walter Reed, according to colleagues and other sources who monitor the meetings.

NPR tried to contact all these officials and the public affairs officers at the institutions. They either didn't return phone calls or said they could not comment.

But psychiatrists and officials who are familiar with the conversations, which continued into the spring of 2009, say they took a remarkable turn: Is it possible, some mused, that Hasan was mentally unstable and unfit to be an Army psychiatrist?

  • Mourners attend the memorial service Tuesday in honor of 13 victims of the shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas.
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    Mourners attend the memorial service Tuesday in honor of 13 victims of the shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • During the memorial service, President Obama named each of the 13 who died and shared personal stories about them and their families with the crowd of about 15,000.
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    During the memorial service, President Obama named each of the 13 who died and shared personal stories about them and their families with the crowd of about 15,000.
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  • Kolleen Alldridge (from left), Gavyn Alldridge, Kim Rosenthal and Alice Thompson light candles Saturday at a small memorial in the courtyard of the apartment complex where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan lived prior to the Fort Hood shooting.
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    Kolleen Alldridge (from left), Gavyn Alldridge, Kim Rosenthal and Alice Thompson light candles Saturday at a small memorial in the courtyard of the apartment complex where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan lived prior to the Fort Hood shooting.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Soldiers bow their heads in prayer during a vigil at Fort Hood on Friday.
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    Soldiers bow their heads in prayer during a vigil at Fort Hood on Friday.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Some of the first responders to the mass shooting at Fort Hood gather to give interviews Friday morning. Thirteen people were killed and 30 were injured in Thursday's shooting.
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    Some of the first responders to the mass shooting at Fort Hood gather to give interviews Friday morning. Thirteen people were killed and 30 were injured in Thursday's shooting.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • A frame grab from a security video shows suspected shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in a convenience store in Killeen, Texas, early Thursday morning, before the attack. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
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    A frame grab from a security video shows suspected shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in a convenience store in Killeen, Texas, early Thursday morning, before the attack. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
    CNN via AP
  • Patricia Villa, next-door neighbor to Hasan, stands in her apartment doorway in Killeen. A day before Hasan allegedly went on a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army Base, he gave Villa furniture, clothing and a copy of the Quran.
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    Patricia Villa, next-door neighbor to Hasan, stands in her apartment doorway in Killeen. A day before Hasan allegedly went on a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army Base, he gave Villa furniture, clothing and a copy of the Quran.
    Jack Plunkett/AP
  • Federal agents search Hasan's apartment in Killeen early Friday. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
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    Federal agents search Hasan's apartment in Killeen early Friday. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
    LM Otero/AP
  • This 2007 picture shows Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected shooter, when he entered the program for his Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship.
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    This 2007 picture shows Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected shooter, when he entered the program for his Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship.
    Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP
  • Jamie Casteel and her husband, Scotty, of Duncan, Okla., wait to hear news about their son-in-law Thursday outside the Scott and White Hospital emergency room in Temple, Texas.
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    Jamie Casteel and her husband, Scotty, of Duncan, Okla., wait to hear news about their son-in-law Thursday outside the Scott and White Hospital emergency room in Temple, Texas.
    Tony Gutierrez/AP
  • Daniel Clark kisses his wife, Rachel Clark, while they wait for Fort Hood to reopen after Thursday's shooting so they can pick up their 5-year-old child at a day care center.
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    Daniel Clark kisses his wife, Rachel Clark, while they wait for Fort Hood to reopen after Thursday's shooting so they can pick up their 5-year-old child at a day care center.
    Michael Thomas/AP
  • Monica Cain, 44, tries to get in touch with her husband, Sgt. Darren Cain, who is stationed at Fort Hood.
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    Monica Cain, 44, tries to get in touch with her husband, Sgt. Darren Cain, who is stationed at Fort Hood.
    Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
  • Sgt. Fanuaee Vea (center) embraces Pvt. Savannah Green outside the base.
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    Sgt. Fanuaee Vea (center) embraces Pvt. Savannah Green outside the base.
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  • An ambulance passes the main gate at Fort Hood following the shooting.
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    An ambulance passes the main gate at Fort Hood following the shooting.
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  • A SWAT team enters the main gate at Fort Hood. The shooting occurred at the Soldier Readiness Center, where troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan receive last-minute medical checkups.
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    A SWAT team enters the main gate at Fort Hood. The shooting occurred at the Soldier Readiness Center, where troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan receive last-minute medical checkups.
    Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune Herald via AP

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One official involved in the conversations had reportedly told colleagues that he worried that if Hasan deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, he might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. Another official reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues whether Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide, like the Muslim U.S. Army sergeant who, in 2003, killed two fellow soldiers and injured 14 others by setting off grenades at a base in Kuwait.

Bureaucratic And Other Obstacles

So why didn't officials act on their concerns and seek to remove Hasan from his duties, or at least order him to receive a mental health evaluation? Interviews with these officials suggest that a chain of unrelated events and factors deterred them.

For one thing, Walter Reed and most medical institutions have a cumbersome and lengthy process for expelling doctors, involving hearings and potential legal battles. As a result, sources say, key decision-makers decided it would be too difficult, if not unfeasible, to put Hasan on probation and possibly expel him from the program.

Second, some of Hasan's supervisors and instructors had told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him, because they didn't have clear evidence that he was unstable, and they worried they might be "discriminating" against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs.

Third, the officials involved in deliberations this year reportedly were not aware, as some top Walter Reed officials were, that intelligence analysts had been tracking Hasan's e-mails with at least one suspected Islamic extremist since December 2008.

And finally, Hasan was about to leave Walter Reed and USUHS for good and transfer to Fort Hood, in Texas. Fort Hood has more psychiatrists and other mental specialists than some other Army bases, so officials figured there would be plenty of co-workers who would support Hasan — and monitor him.

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