Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho this week told lawmakers in a House Appropriations subcommittee that the Army is investigating the ombudsman program that drew attention to a Madigan Army Medical Center forensic psychiatry unit that sometimes adjusted behavioral health diagnoses in such a way that soldiers did not receive full disability benefits for post-traumatic stress.
These are the other known investigations into the Madigan team:
* An Army Medical Command inquiry into the Madigan forensic unit that is checking cases that were screened by Madigan forensic psychiatrists since 2007. Horoho said the Army identified about 1,600 cases that passed through Madigan forensics. Close to 300 oldiers are being invited to have new screenings that could result in different behavioral health diagnoses. So far, six soldiers whose PTSD diagnoses were changed by Madigan forensics have had their original diagnoses reinstated.
* An Army Medical Command investigation into the command climate at Madigan. That investigation explains why Madigan commander Col. Dallas Homas is on administrative leave. Horoho this week told lawmakers his suspension was a normal action for an investigation.
* A Western Region Medical Command quality assurance investigation into Madigan.
* An Army Inspector General investigation into PTSD diagnoses across the service, looking at diagnostic variances at different institutions.
There could be others.
Horoho said the Army Auditing Agency is looking at the ombudsman. The ombudsman at Madigan played a key role in forwarding notes to Horoho’s office from fall meetings where Madigan forensic psychiatrists appeared to encourage their colleagues to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars in doing their work. One psychiatrist noted that a PTSD diagnosis could cost the government $1.5 million over a soldier’s lifetime.
The subtext: Some retired officers and people in uniform speaking on condition of anonymity have been reporting the ombudsman went too far in these cases. They seem to believe the ombudsman has been in contact at least with Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash., in providing information about Madigan. That breaks typical Army form because the ombudsman is supposed to work within military channels through Army Medical Command.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, at this week’s hearing asked Horoho if the diagnoses were being changed for political reasons. Horoho in2008 as Madigan commander once endorsed the forensic psychiatry unit that is now under her scrutiny.
She replied that she’s seeking a fair result for the entire Army. She stressed that Madigan is the only Army hospital to regularly use forensic psychiatry in medical retirements. The Army has forensic psychiatrists on staff at other hospitals, but it has not said where they work or how their roles are different from the Madigan unit.
“What we’re looking at is wanting to, one, make sure that our service members received the best care possible. And we’re also looking at variants and across our processes. Forensic psychiatry is not a good capability, it’s not a bad capability, it’s a capability,” Horoho replied.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., appeared concerned that Homas was not getting a fair shake in the investigations. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Walter spoke up for Homas in a conversation with the congressman.
“Dr. Walter served and traveled with Dr. Homas in Afghanistan and knows him to be an outstanding soldier, physician and leader whose highest priority is taking care of soldiers,” Lewis said.
Here’s Horoho’s response:
“Regarding Col. Homas, sir, he — there’s a couple of things when we started the investigation. We had the chief of the forensics was actually administratively suspended pending the investigation. The Warrior Transition surgeon was also administratively suspended pending the investigation. And then Col. Homas was administratively suspended pending the investigation. And those are normal procedures when an investigation is ongoing.”