WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday he has ordered all branches of the military to conduct an extensive review of mental health diagnoses amid criticism of how the services treat the men and women suffering the invisible wounds of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under questioning from a Senate panel on Wednesday, Panetta disclosed that he had asked the Air Force and Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, to follow the lead of the Army in launching an independent study of how it evaluates soldiers with possible post-traumatic stress disorder. Panetta’s answer marked the first time that the Pentagon chief had said publicly that he had requested the review by all the services.
The Army review was prompted in part by reports that the forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state may have reversed PTSD diagnoses based on the expense of providing care and benefits to military members.
At the Senate hearing, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington reminded Panetta that the Army was conducting a sweeping review and asked why the Defense Department had not taken the lead.
“Senator, we are. What I’ve asked is the other service chiefs to implement the same approach that the Army’s taken here,” Panetta responded.
The Pentagon chief said he was not satisfied with the military’s handling of the cases and promised it would do better.
“There are still huge gaps in terms of the differences in terms of how they approach these cases and how they diagnose the cases and how they deal with them, and frankly, that’s a whole area we have to do much better on,” Panetta said.
The Pentagon has asked Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, to oversee the review. The study will cover mental health diagnoses dating to 2001.