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Monday, February 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Veterans’ PTSD diagnoses challenged

Concerns grow that military hospitals reverse findings because of costs

By Phoebe Zhang Correspondent

WASHINGTON – Nearly 300 patients of Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma will be re-examined for post-traumatic stress disorder because of concerns that their diagnoses may have been influenced by the costs associated with PTSD, a Senate committee was told Wednesday.

The soldiers and veterans were all initially found to suffer from PTSD, but had their diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord medical facility over the last five years. Those decisions have raised questions in recent months, including whether the Madigan doctors were influenced by the cost of pensions and other benefits that veterans with PTSD are due.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said at the hearing that she wants to know if soldiers all over the country were similarly misdiagnosed.

“Problems at Madigan were allowed to go on for years, so I’m really concerned that the lack of oversight in the Disability Evaluation System is much more broad,” she said.

The Veterans Affairs Committee has already encountered cases in which the service member was diagnosed with PTSD during military service, entered the disability evaluation process and the military took back that diagnosis, Murray said.

“My concern is the significant discrepancy now between the Army’s determination and the VA’s finding that the soldier had a much more severe case of PTSD,” she said.

The Army is also conducting three separate investigations into the practice of forensic psychiatry, said Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general. She did not disclose details of the investigations at Wednesday’s committee hearing but said the Army’s current standard for diagnosing PTSD is the best available.

“We use the same diagnostic tools within the Army, Navy and Air Force, which is the same tool used in the civilian sector,” she said.

Murray, the committee chairwoman, pressed Horoho for the Army to re-evaluate every soldier who may not have received a proper diagnosis and to quickly move forward to make sure there is the same diagnostic tool nationwide.

Congress will not decide on further action until the committee and the Army finish their investigations, Murray said.

Phoebe Zhang, a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington, D.C., Reporting Program, is a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.

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