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Madigan chief placed on leave amid investigations into PTSD diagnoses at Army hospital

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Feb. 20, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
February 21, 2012 12:20 am

The head of Madigan Army Medical Center has been removed from command while the Western Region Medical Command concludes its investigation into a psychiatry team that adjusted diagnoses of certain soldiers who were seeking medical retirements.

Col. Dallas Homas’ leave was announced Monday evening by Maj. Gen. Phillip Volpe, who leads the Western Region Medical Command. Col. Mike Heimall, commander of Irwin Army Community Hospital, Fort Riley, Kan., is taking Homas’ place as interim commander.

Meanwhile, the Army Surgeon General this week is contacting the families of 14 soldiers whose diagnoses for post-traumatic stress disorder were adjusted by the Madigan forensic psychiatry team in such a way that the former soldiers did not receive full disability pensions. The soldiers’ cases were reviewed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center over the past few weeks.

Last fall, memos show that members of the forensic psychiatry team urged behavioral health professionals to consider the long-term costs of a PTSD diagnosis on taxpayers. One memo said a PTSD diagnosis for a veteran could cost up to $1.5 million over time. Those documents have lawmakers asking whether the psychiatrists changed diagnoses to reduce expenses.

“This is an investigation that has only just begun,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Monday night in a written statement. “The most important thing is that these service members and their families are provided with answers on why cost was a factor in the treatment they sought for the invisible wounds of war, and that the Army takes the right steps to fix it.”

Madigan is the only Army hospital with a forensic psychiatry team that reviews behavioral health diagnoses of soldiers receiving medical retirements. The team was created in October 2008. The Army has not said how many diagnoses the team adjusted.

The forensic psychiatry chief, Dr. William Keppler, has been assigned to non-clinical duties because of the investigations.

Other soldiers who have had their PTSD diagnoses changed by Madigan’s forensic psychiatry team have requested reviews of their cases at Walter Reed, the Army said Monday.

“As this process continues, we will undoubtedly be faced with areas not yet addressed,” said Volpe. “That said, everyone, at all levels is committed to facing those challenges head-on to ensure the best care for our soldiers.”

Vople in a news release said Homas’ administrative removal reflected a “common practice” during ongoing investigations.

“Through this action, all leadership, both at Madigan and throughout the Western Regional Medical Command, reaffirms their faith and trust in the investigation process,” Volpe said.

Homas, a West Point graduate, deployed to Iraq as the top surgeon for Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s I Corps in 2009-10. He became the head of Madigan last March following the retirement of Col. Jerome Penner. Homas, a West Point graduate, also has served in Afghanistan. His military decorations include the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

“It is our honor and privilege to provide health care to our patients which include the finest soldiers and airmen in the nation,” Homas said last week in written remarks about the medical command investigations. “Their well-being and health is our priority…they absolutely deserve the best care possible. We welcome the opportunity to show investigators our procedures and practices and are committed to doing so with the utmost transparency and cooperation.”

 

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