U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Monday submitted legislation that would reshape behavioral health programs in the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs based in part on her review of controversial post-traumatic stress diagnoses at Madigan Army Medical Center.
For much of this year, Murray has pushed the Defense Department to “standardize” its post-traumatic stress programs across the service. She has been troubled by service members receiving different diagnoses from different doctors, as well as by reports of veterans experiencing long wait times for mental health services at the VA.
“The Department of Defense and the VA are losing the battle against the mental and behavioral wounds of these wars,” Murray said in introducing her bill. “To see that, you don’t need to look any further than the tragic fact that already this year over 150 active-duty service members have taken their own lives.”
Murray’s bill has a long road before it can become a law. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which Murray leads as chairwoman, will hold a hearing Wednesday on the legislation.
Her bill aims to:
• Compel the Defense Department to standardize its various behavioral health and suicide-prevention programs.
• Provide more behavioral health services for families through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
• Create opportunities for veterans and active-duty service members to counsel each other as peers.
• Require the VA to create “credible” staffing plans and performance goals.
Murray has focused on Madigan since late last year, when she learned of a team of forensic psychiatrists at the hospital that sometimes changed diagnoses for service members who were seeking medical retirements.
In some cases, the psychiatrists denied soldiers post-traumatic stress diagnoses after the soldiers had received that diagnosis from other doctors.
One of those soldiers was Stephen Davis of Tacoma, whose story Murray shared in introducing the bill. Davis was denied a PTSD diagnosis at Madigan from the team of forensic psychiatrists.
“He was told – in effect – that despite serving in two war zones, despite being involved in three separate (improvised explosive) incidents, and despite his repeated deployments, he was making it all up.
“He was then sent home with a diagnosis for adjustment disorder and told that his disability rating would be lowered and that the benefits that he and his family would receive would ultimately be diminished,” Murray said.
Madigan was the only Army hospital to use forensic psychiatrists extensively. The Army created the program five years ago in an attempt to achieve a high degree of accuracy in its mental health diagnoses.
The complaints about diagnoses at Madigan have prompted several layers of Defense Department investigations into behavioral health diagnoses dating back to the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.
They also led the Army to place Madigan commander Col. Dallas Homas on administrative leave in February. The hospital still does not have a permanent commander.
The VA last week announced a push to hire more behavioral health specialists. VA Puget Sound has 320 mental health clinicians. Studies obtained by Murray’s office earlier this year showed it was meeting its goals for reducing the time patients spend waiting for an firstname.lastname@example.org