The Army has more than doubled its number of military and civilian behavioral health workers in the past five years. It’s an important step. But it may not be enough. A report out today examines how the Army evaluates soldiers for mental health issues; it finds the system is riddled with problems.
The report looked at nearly 150,000 case files dating back to 2001. The task force determined that the Army’s behavioral health system is hindered by confusing paperwork, inconsistent training and guidelines and incompatible data systems.
The findings are significant. After a decade of war, soldier suicides outpace combat deaths.
The review came under pressure from Washington Senator Patty Murray. While Murray says she is pleased that the Army has vowed to take action on the findings, she says they’re not new. She’s disappointed it has taken more than a decade to get to this point.
“This is an issue that we have to absolutely stay on top of, that it’s not just checking boxes on a piece of paper, that it’s implemented," Murray says. "And I will let all the soldiers and families know that I’ve been working with that I’m going to stay on this, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect after serving our country."
The issue came to light after it was revealed that hundreds of soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team.
In a news conference with reporters Army Surgeon General Lt. Col. Patricia Horoho said no other Army hospitals were using forensic psychiatry teams.
“Madigan continued to use the forensic psychiatrists in their medical evaluation process and we were not using that capability anywhere else and so that’s the variance that was seen there," Horoho says. "But there was no intentional malice nor was there wrongdoing that was seen by the way they were doing the evaluation at Madigan."
The reason they were using forensic psychiatry in this way is not clear.
The PTSD reversals in some cases would have reduced benefits for soldiers who were being medically retired. After the cases were reviewed at Walter Reed Medical Center about 150 of those PTSD diagnoses were reinstated.
Copyright 2013 KUOW