RICHMOND — The U.S. Navy banned a longtime military contractor this week — two years after authorities were alerted to problems and three months after the Virginia Board of Medicine accused the company’s president of using drugs, alcohol and macabre medical procedures to sexually exploit personnel in his classes.
In March, the board suspended the medical license of John Hagmann, president of Deployment Medicine International, concluding that he had used students “for personal gain and sexual gratification.”
The board found that while teaching battlefield medicine in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and the United Kingdom, Hagmann conducted unnecessary and invasive procedures. It also concluded that he had directed students to drink large quantities of alcohol, injected them with the hallucinogen ketamine and other drugs, and conducted “shock labs,” which involved taking blood from students, monitoring them for shock and then transfusing the blood back into them.
During “his military course training programs, he exploited participants for his personal gain, thereby representing a danger to the health and welfare of his patients and the public,” the board wrote.
“These procedures were not undertaken or provided in good faith for medicinal or therapeutic purposes, were undocumented and were not performed under adequate or appropriate sterile conditions,” it said.
Despite those findings, which were publicly available on the board’s Web site, the federal government in May renewed DMI’s eligibility to receive contracts. DMI, which also does business as Deployment Medicine Consultants, was listed as a contractor in good standing as recently as Wednesday night on the official federal contracting Web site Sam.gov.
That changed Wednesday, a week after a member of the House Armed Services Committee wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter asking why DMI remained as an approved contractor. The change came just days after Reuters first reported the board’s findings against Hagmann.
“I know you are as horrified as I am by what has been revealed here,” wrote Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
In a brief telephone interview this week, Hagmann told The Washington Post that animal rights activists who oppose his use of live animals in training were behind the allegations. He also said he was overseas — he declined to say where — but would return for a hearing before the board next week. On June 19, the board will consider whether to permanently revoke his license to practice in Virginia.
“There is a lot more to this case,” he said.
Hagmann’s Richmond-based attorney, Ramon Rodriguez III, did not respond to messages seeking comment. A man who answered the phone at DMI’s headquarters in Gig Harbor, Wash., declined to comment.
In a written statement to Reuters, Hagmann disputed the notion of any sexual misconduct and said his training procedures were not out of the ordinary. Among the accusations against him is that he oversaw invasive and unnecessary procedures, including penile injections and rectal and testicular exams.
The “courses and procedures in question were all reviewed and approved” by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, he said.
The Bethesda-based institution trains military health professionals. At one time, Hagmann was medical director of its Casualty Care Research Center, according to his online profile. He had a faculty appointment at USU from 1986 to 2000, university spokeswoman Sharon Holland said.
“The procedures outlined in the Virginia Medical Board report that resulted in Dr. Hagmann’s license being suspended were not authorized by USU,” Holland said.
Hagmann was first investigated nearly two years ago, when a student at the university complained about abuse at a DMI training session, Holland said. That same day, the leadership of the university, its School of Medicine and its department of military and emergency medicine met and immediately suspended USU’s relationship with Hagmann and his company, she added.
She said that USU quickly notified military authorities.
“The University was notified by the student on Wednesday, July 24, 2013,” she wrote. “After an immediate preliminary investigation, we notified the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on Monday, July 29, 2013. However, NCIS suggested that it should be referred to [the Defense Criminal Investigative Service], so we notified DCIS shortly thereafter. The University then launched its own internal investigation. The final report of our internal investigation was dated December 16, 2013. After a thorough review of the comprehensive report by University leadership, a formal complaint was submitted by the University to the Virginia Board of Medicine on February 25, 2014.”
The Navy posted an “exception” this week to DMI and DMC on the contracting Web site, saying that they are ineligible for contracts pending the outcome of unspecified “proceedings.”
“Preliminary ineligible [status] based upon adequate evidence of conduct indicating a lack of business honesty or integrity, or a lack of business integrity,” the site notes.
Although the suspension comes from the Navy, it is “reciprocal,” meaning that it applies to the entire federal government. DMI has contracted with Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and NASA, among others.
It was not clear why the federal government continued to contract with DMI after USU reported its findings to DCIS. There was another potential red flag: The company has had a $207,537 federal tax lien filed against it since 2012, public records show.
Navy spokeswoman Jacqueline Pau said officials were looking into records of the matter.
Bridget Ann Serchak, spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General, declined to say whether the military is conducting an investigation of its own.
“As a matter of policy, the DoD IG does not confirm or deny the existence of, or comment upon investigations or investigative issues,” she said via e-mail.
Although the suspension of Hagmann’s license was a matter of public record, it did not draw attention until recently. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals unearthed it a few weeks ago as it was preparing to release a video showing pigs being shot and carved up at one of DMI’s training courses, said Justin Goodman, director of the group’s Laboratory Investigations Department.
PETA opposes the use of live animals for such training, contending that is cruel and not as effective as using human simulators. DMI is not the only company that conducts “live tissue” training, but with $10 million in federal contracts since 2008, it is the biggest, Goodman said.
The use of live animals is not the reason Hagmann has lost his medical license, but Goodman drew a connection.
“When there’s a company being paid to stab, shoot, impale and blow up animals — when there’s humane alternatives available — then it is not completely surprising that these other types of abuse were encouraged and tolerated,” he said.
He praised the Navy’s action but questioned why it took so long.
“I think that’s disturbing, whether you care about animals or sexual abuse of soldiers,” he said.