Army review to look at mental health compensation
By Gregg Zoroya | USA Today | Published: June 6, 2012
The Army says it will pore through - in less than 90 days - about 190,000 medical files of current and former soldiers dating to 2001 to see whether any were shortchanged on retirement compensation for mental health problems.
Army Secretary John McHugh had announced the unprecedented review three weeks ago, but details about the scope of the effort surfaced this week.
The estimated 190,000 cases represent about 160,000 soldiers who went through medical exams -- in some cases more than once -- since 2001, says Lt. Col. Richard Paz, executive officer for a task force leading the effort.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has pushed hard for a broad review, says she was pleased "that the Army is taking sweeping steps to review this problem, (but) it will be essential that it's done right. That means prompt attention to the problems of servicemembers identified during the review and quick action to implement and enforce solutions."
The 10-year review was prompted by a scandal at the Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, Wash., where post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses of soldiers seeking medical retirements were downgraded, potentially reducing pension payments.
The review is "going to be hard to execute, but let's satisfy these soldiers," says Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, new head of the Army's Western Regional Medical Command.
The scandal led to several internal Army investigations, Senate hearings and McHugh's decision for a 10-year review.
"The secretary's opinion was if there's any possibility that we've left a service member disadvantaged, we must reach out to them. And he wanted absolute assurance that we've left no one behind," says Maj. Gen. Richard Stone, Army deputy surgeon general.
"What we need to absolutely assure the American people and our servicemembers ... (is) that there is not those sorts of (Madigan) patterns anywhere else in the Army," Stone says.
The focus of the Army review is looking at evaluations done in the course of determining whether a soldier should be medically retired.
More than 200 medical administrative workers across 31 Army hospitals are culling through both digital and, where necessary, paper records to see where there was a behavioral health diagnosis and whether that diagnosis was changed, Paz says.
Where a mental health diagnosis was changed to a lesser illness, the soldier or veteran will be allowed the opportunity to be re-examined -- even after many years have passed -- to determine whether a mistake was made, Stone says.
The Army will also work to determine whether there are any hospitals that systematically mishandled in the same way as Madigan, Stone says.
"The secretary's opinion was if there's any possibility that we've left a servicemember disadvantaged, we must reach out to them. And he wanted absolute assurance that we've left no one behind," Stone says.
In this file photo, Elrico Hernandez, battalion physician assistant for 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, discussed training scenario as part of a primary care behavioral health seminar. Medical care providers in Iraq had taken part in seminars to improve mental health screening for soldiers.
Zachary Zuber/Courtesy U.S. Army