The Army on Wednesday launched a review of its handling of post-traumatic stress disorder and other behavioral health evaluations at all of its medical facilities since 2001, in response to fears that some soldiers had their diagnoses reversed because of concerns about the cost of treating them.
The announcement follows disclosures that some soldiers diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder had that finding rejected during subsequent evaluations at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
In reviewing those evaluations this year, Army investigators have found cases where “the original PTSD diagnoses were more accurate,” according to an Army statement.
The Army will now review diagnoses and evaluations made at all of its other medical facilities.
Army leaders also have ordered an independent review by the Army inspector general into whether the disability evaluation system affects the behavioral health diagnoses given to soldiers, and whether the command climate or other non-medical factors affect the diagnoses, according to information given Wednesday to members of Congress.
The diagnoses are the first step in evaluating the amount of disability benefits a soldier receives.
In addition, the Army auditor general has been ordered to audit the U.S. Army Medical Command Ombudsman Program, which was set up as a mediator for soldiers and family members in the wake of the scandal over conditions at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“The Army clearly realizes they have a nationwide, systematic problem on their hands,” said Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who requested the Army review at Lewis-McChord. “I credit them with taking action, but it will be essential that this vast and truly historic review is done the right way.”
The Army’s review of 400 cases at Lewis-McChord has so far led to more than 100 service members having their PTSD diagnoses restored.
“Reviewing our processes and policies will ensure that we apply an appropriate standard at every installation – one that is influenced only by the opinion and expertise of our medical professionals,” Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno said in a joint statement.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one of the largest military installations in the nation, has attracted attention in recent months because of several high-profile incidents. It is the home base for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of massacring 17 Afghan villagers in March, as well as five soldiers who were found guilty in 2010 of charges relating to the killings of three unarmed Afghan civilians.
The Army review is to be led by Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Army vice chief of staff, and Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal. The review is meant to identify and correct problems in the Army’s approach to behavioral health diagnoses and disability evaluations.
Austin called Murray Wednesday to brief her on the Army review.
Source: Stars and Stripes, May 16, 2012, by Steve Vogel (Washington Post)