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Originally published February 4, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Page modified February 5, 2013 at 5:52 AM

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Only Madigan used troubled PTSD review system, Army says

A Madigan Army Medical Center screening program that critics say unfairly reversed the PTSD diagnoses of hundreds of soldiers wasn’t used at other military facilities, an Army investigation found.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — An Army investigation has found that only Madigan Army Medical Center used forensic psychiatrists to screen patients under consideration for medical retirement, according to Army Secretary John McHugh.

McHugh met with reporters Monday at the Western Washington base to discuss the investigation, which was launched after soldiers complained that Madigan forensic psychiatrists were unfairly reversing diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder that would have qualified them for medical retirement.

“As we looked across the force as a follow-up, we wanted to make sure there were no repetitions in other quarters ... and indeed we found that there were not,” McHugh said.

Forensic psychiatrists are often involved in legal proceedings and may administer tests that at Madigan were intended to help determine if a patient was feigning symptoms such as those for PTSD. Madigan leaders once promoted the forensic screening as a “best practice” as patients were considered for medical retirements that offer pensions and other benefits.

Last year, a Madigan investigation resulted in the Army ending the use of forensic psychiatrists for screening PTSD and other behavioral-health patients. The findings from that investigation have not been publicly released.

At Madigan, the screening team was involved in reversing the diagnoses of more than 300 patients. The Army set up a wide-ranging effort to re-evaluate those patients that resulted in many of them having PTSD diagnoses reinstated.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last year pressed the Army for a broader review of behavioral-health diagnoses.

McHugh said the Army-wide investigation is complete. But Monday, he declined to release the investigative report or give many details about the findings, saying they still were under review.

McHugh said he also asked senior Army leaders to visit installations to assess how the Army was promoting health and wellness.

They found many existing programs were not “universally understood.” Those programs are part of the Army’s efforts to combat escalating numbers of suicides as well as drug and alcohol abuse and other self-destructive behavior.

McHugh on Monday signed a directive asking Army leaders to devise a plan to synchronize and standardize support programs. That plan should include improvements to the disability evaluation system and better integration of programs to combat sexual assault, bullying, hazing and domestic violence.

Plans for the “Ready and Resilient Campaign” are supposed to be finished for review by Feb. 15.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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