Recently released documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are further proof the VA has failed to adequately address the crisis in veterans' mental health care, according to a former top VA employee turned veterans' advocate.
Veterans Attest to PTSD Neglect by VA
Wednesday 21 May 2008
by: Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner, t r u t h o u t Report
In March, Norma J. Perez, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coordinator at a VA facility in Temple, Texas, wrote an email (PDF) to her subordinates stating: "Given that we have more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of adjustment disorder, R/O [ruling out] PTSD ... we really don't or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD."
In response, VA secretary James Peake said that the VA is "committed to absolute accuracy in a diagnosis and unwavering in providing any and all earned benefits. PTSD and the mental health arena is no exception." Peake placed the blame on Perez, saying that the memo revealed the mistake of a single employee, not VA policy.
However, the VA has been under fire from Congress and veterans' rights groups for more than a year for allegedly covering up and underreporting the mental health care crisis among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A lawsuit that is currently awaiting a final ruling seeks to force the VA to move quickly in addressing the mental and physical health needs of veterans.
Paul Sullivan, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), the veterans' rights organization which brought the lawsuit, said the Perez email exemplifies a larger trend. "The bottom line is that VA under the Bush administration has dropped the ball. The email sent by Perez proves our lawsuit was correct - VA is short staffed for mental health care and VA intentionally misdiagnoses veterans in order to save money. VA was illegally and unconscionably turning away suicidal veterans in need of emergency mental health care. We are asking the court to order VA to stop this outrageous practice," Sullivan said.
New VA documents obtained exclusively by VCS using the Freedom of Information Act indicate the Veterans Administration is only paying disability benefits for PTSD to 33,247 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, although 67,717 have been diagnosed with PTSD. According to Sullivan, VCS is calling for an investigation into this apparent discrepancy.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in September 2007 stated that the VA's "lack of early identification techniques" led to "inconsistent diagnosis and treatment" of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. According to the GAO, early diagnosis is essential in preventing PTSD's consequences - which could be deadly.
Firsthand Accounts of PTSD Crisis
Kristofer Goldsmith, a former Army sergeant who was forced to stay in the military beyond his contract because of the "stop loss" order given by the president, testified about his experience with mental health care at Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We were told that if we were to seek mental health, we would be locked away and our careers would not advance. If I admitted that I had severe chronic depression, if I thought I had PTSD ... my career could have been ruined," Goldsmith said.
He received an adjustment disorder diagnosis after experiencing a panic attack in March 2007. Because he was not granted the PTSD label - despite displaying many symptoms of the disorder - he was ordered to deploy to Iraq for a second tour.
What Goldsmith described as a "sharp downward spiral" came to a head the day before he was scheduled to ship back to Iraq with his unit.
"The day before I was supposed to deploy, Memorial Day, I went out onto a field in Fort Stewart and tried to take my own life ... I took pills and drank vodka until I couldn't drink anymore. The next thing I knew I was handcuffed to a gurney in the hospital. The cops had found me and literally dragged my body into an ambulance," Goldsmith said in his testimony.
Finally, in October 2007, months after his suicide attempt, Goldsmith received a PTSD diagnosis from the VA.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 12:45 PM