The Army has more than doubled its number of military and civilian behavioral health workers in the past five years, however, a newly released report that examines how the Army evaluates soldiers for mental health issues finds that the system is riddled with problems.
An Army task force interviewed 750 people stationed around the globe, conducted listening sessions with 6,400 others and reviewed more than 140,000 records.
The Army's Medical Command reviewed the diagnoses for all soldiers evaluated for behavioral health problems from October 2001 to April 2012 The task force determined that soldiers navigating the behavioral health system were hindered by confusing paperwork, inconsistent training and guidelines, and incompatible data systems.
The report's findings are significant. After a decade of war, soldier suicides outpace combat deaths.
The massive review was prompted by concerns from Sen. Patty Murray. Murray says she is pleased that the Army has vowed to take action on the 24 findings and 47 recommendations. But Murray, who is chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, says these issues are not new. She’s disappointed it has taken more than a decade to get to this point.
“This is an issue that we have to absolutely stay on top of, that it’s not just checking boxes on a piece of paper, that it’s implemented," Murray says. "I will let all the soldiers and families know that I’ve been working with that, I’m going to stay on this. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect after serving our country.”
The issue came to light after it was revealed that hundreds of soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team.
In a news conference with reporters, Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, said no other Army hospitals were using forensic psychiatry teams.
“Madigan continued to use the forensic psychiatrists in their medical evaluation process and we were not using that capability anywhere else," Horoho said. "But there was no intentional malice nor was there wrongdoing that was seen by the way they were doing the evaluation at Madigan."
It's not clear why Madigan was using forensic psychiatry in this way. Horoho says the hospital is currently using forensic psychiatry only for administrative purposes.
The PTSD reversals in some cases would have reduced benefits for soldiers who were being medically retired. After the cases were reviewed at Walter Reed Medical Center about 150 of those PTSD diagnoses were reinstated.