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Top military brass not ready to release service-wide behavioral health review spurred by Madigan complaints

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on June 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
June 11, 2013 4:37 pm

Defense leaders still can’t give Sen. Patty Murray a deadline for when they plan to wrap up a service-wide review of military behavioral health programs more than a year after they first committed to her request.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta launched the cross-service review last year following complaints from patients at Madigan Army Medical Center who had diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder changed for reasons they could not understand.

Since then, the Army has released plans to standardize its behavioral health programs. The cross-service review remains incomplete.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Murray during his appearance at a Senate Appropriations hearing that the Pentagon has not lost sight of the review as the military continues to battle still rising numbers of suicides in the ranks.

“I am well aware of the review and absolutely committed as Secretary Panetta was to the review and addressing it as he said very clearly when you looking at the latest numbers we have 350 suicides last year. And all of the other extenuating dynamics that play out. It is as Secretary Panetta noted one of the great internal problems that we have. As to your question when will it be due out, I don’t know. We’ll get back to you,” he said.

Another one of Murray’s military reform efforts received a more positive response this week when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey endorsed part of her bill to change the way the Defense Department handles reports of sexual assault.

Dempsey wrote that he’s in favor of an element of the bill that calls on the military to train victims’ advocates to help prosecute sex assault crimes. He noted that the Air Force already is adopting a variation of that request by assigning special victims’ counsel to work on sex assault cases.

He wrote that so far the Air Force is seeing victims becoming more willing to help prosecute their cases by filing open reports of sex assault instead of claims that are closed to their chains of command.

“I support providing victims of sexual assault this important resource,” he wrote in a letter to Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Murray’s main cosponsor on the sex assault bill.

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