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Friday, November 16, 2012 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.
Sen. Murray releases tally on PTSD review
By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter
Of 261 service members and veterans who failed to win health retirement when screened by a forensic psychiatric team at Madigan Army Medical Center, 150 were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder when their cases were reviewed by Army behavioral health teams, according to information released this week by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
One hundred seven more of those service members and veterans received adjustment, anxiety, mood or other behavioral-health diagnoses, when their cases were reviewed.
Murray had pushed for these reviews after some soldiers complained about the outcomes of their screenings at Madigan, a major military medical center south of Tacoma.
"The forensic unit at Madigan added an unwarranted layer of review and uncertainty that left service members and their families with more questions than answers," Murray said in a statement released this week.
The re-evaluations were undertaken by behavioral health teams working in a "fusion cell" created by the Western Regional Medical Command.
The fusion cell was "deactivated" in September because the number of people requesting reviews had declined, according to a statement released Thursday by the regional command. But it is still possible to conduct additional reviews, according to Sharon Ayala, a spokeswoman for the regional command.
Ayala said Murray's tally of the review results was released through "unofficial channels," and declined to comment on them.
Forensic psychiatric evaluations are often used in legal proceedings and typically involve tests — such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory — that may be used to help assess the severity of PTSD symptoms or whether someone might be feigning those symptoms.
At Madigan, but not elsewhere in the Army medical system, a forensic psychiatric team screened PTSD patients who were under consideration for medical retirement, which includes pension, health-insurance and other benefits. Many of these patients already had been diagnosed with PTSD by other military or Department of Veterans Affairs providers and saw the forensic team as part of a final screening.
The Madigan team often concluded that patients did not have PTSD. Sometimes, they concluded the patients appeared to be malingering.
Earlier this year, the Army Medical Command suspended the forensic team from screening and offered re-evaluations to PTSD veterans who had been screened by the team.
According to Murray, about 17 percent of the service members and veterans who were offered the reviews declined them.
In July, the Army also announced that it would no longer use forensic methods to screen patients with PTSD. "It's simply not optimal for the unique cases that the Army diagnoses and reviews," said General Lloyd Austin, the Army's vice chief of staff.
The Army also this year conducted an investigation of Madigan's screening team, but the results of that investigation were never released.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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