Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today said he’s watching developments in an investigation into Madigan Army Medical Center’s behavioral health program and has asked the Pentagon’s top personnel officer to follow up on how the military can learn from the controversy over disagreements in PTSD diagnoses.
His remarks came at a defense budget hearing where Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pressed him about his knowledge of Madigan’s forensic psychiatry team. That unit, created in 2008, reviewed PTSD diagnoses and sometimes adjusted them to other diagnoses.
The decisions were costly to some service members whose adjusted diagnoses did not entitle them to the same level of disability benefits the government provides to soldiers who suffer from PTSD. One psychiatrist in that unit this fall encouraged others in his unit not to be a “rubber stamp” on PTSD diagnoses, and said a PTSD diagnosis could cost taxpayers $1.5 million in benefits over a former soldier’s lifetime.
“I never want to hear anyone in any service say we’re not going to give you a PTSD diagnosis because we have a budget problem,” Murray said at today’s hearing.
Panetta said he asked his undersecretary for personnel to look into the PTSD diagnoses.
“I was very concerned when I got the report about what happened at Madigan and it reflects the fact that we have not learned how to deal with that and we have to,” he said. He agreed with Murray when she said she wanted more consistent standards across the services for behavioral health diagnoses.
Murray is urging Panetta to look into whether psychiatrists were basing diagnoses on costs.
Some experts have begun sticking up for the doctors in the unit whose diagnoses have been scrutinized as anti-soldier over the past month. Here are remarks from former Army psychiatrist Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, who yesterday on TIME’s Battleland blog wrote the investigations appear to be a case of “scapegoating doctors” who have dedicated their careers to helping service members.
“I would urge all who rush to judgment to step back, and let the investigation unfold. I suspect that it will find good men and women doing everything they could to take care of Soldier in uncertain circumstances—not exactly the fog of war—but the smog of the fallout, the psychological effects of combat,” she wrote.