Military Mental Health, Mind Games
by Mark Thompson
Time Magazine/Battleland, March 11, 2013
Grappling with the challenges of soldiers back from war is a challenge. Nothing makes that more clear than the up-and-down year that an Army doctor, Colonel Dallas Homas, the top doc at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, just went through:
– In late 2011, 14 soldiers submitted separate complaints about their PTSD diagnoses to Army leaders and lawmakers. The troops claimed that Army mental-health workers at Madigan improperly changed the soldiers’ PTSD diagnoses, potentially impacting their medical discharge and reducing their benefits.
– In February 2012, the Army responded to the allegations by launching probes to identify the sources of what the Army termed “diagnostic variance” at Madigan, determine if any wrongdoing was committed, and make any necessary corrections. The Army removed Homas from command.
Head of Madigan removed from command amid PTSD probe
…the Seattle Times reported.
Col. Dallas Homas has been removed from command amid an Army investigation into the medical center’s handling of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
…the sub-head read.
Army avoiding PTSD claims? Madigan chief suspended amid inquiry
…the Los Angeles Times said.
Dr. Elspeth Ritchie, a former top Army psychiatrist, complained on Battleland over the way Homas and other doctors were being treated. “The big story here for the press should be how these kinds of investigations, often carried out and tried in public, result in demoralization and problems retaining the best and brightest in Army,” she wrote. “On these complicated and highly charged issues, we need to avoid to crucifying those in the trenches.”
– In May 2012, Army Secretary John McHugh, responding to the Madigan allegations, ordered a systemic review of how the Army diagnoses PTSD among its troops. McHugh established the Army Task Force on Behavioral Health to assist the Under Secretary of the Army and the Army vice chief of staff in conducting a comprehensive review and developing a corrective action plan.
– In August 2012, the Army reinstated Homas, after it decided he had not pressured anyone to influence the PTSD diagnoses.
– Late Friday, March 8, the Army released its corrective action plan, here, which recommended 47 steps the Army should take to improve mental-health diagnoses for its troops. “The sheer number of changes this report recommends is indicative of the size and scope of the problem,” said Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., who had pushed for the review. “This report lays out shortcomings in diagnosing, identifying and providing standardized care for PTSD and a wide range of behavioral health issues.”
Murray’s office had found that a forensic psychiatry screening team – the only one of its kind at a major Army medical post – routinely barred medical retirements that other medical professionals suggested might be warranted.
But Army officials concluded that there were relatively few false PTSD claims made by troops, and that there was no desire to keep disability payments low by denying legitimate PTSD claims. Outside reviewers concurred with 88% of the service’s PTSD diagnoses. Given its subjective nature, that is not unusual, Army officials said. While the initial variance rate at Madigan was 21%, the Army found no evidence of wrongdoing there.
Sunday, March 10, was supposed to be the final day that Homas, Madigan’s commander, was in charge of the place. But the Army recently decided he would stay on the job until August. “It is such an honor,” Homas said after the Army announced his extension, “to be entrusted with the health of our service members, their families and our retiree population.”
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