(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to request details on how the Department of Defense will conduct a major review of mental health diagnoses made since 2001. The review, which Secretary Panetta announced last week at a hearing with Senator Murray, comes after Murray has repeatedly pointed to inconsistencies in the Pentagon’s mental health evaluation system. In Washington state, those inconsistencies have led to hundreds of service members having their proper diagnosis of PTSD restored after being accused of lying about their symptoms.
“The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are losing the war against mental and behavioral health conditions,” Murray wrote. “As you acknowledged, huge gaps remain in how both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs approach, diagnose and deal with these cases. A review across each service is a necessary step forward in addressing concerns I have been raising about both the disability evaluation system and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health conditions.”
In the letter Murray outlines four key issues the Pentagon must consider in proceeding with the review, including one about the timeline for this massive review. Murray also calls on Secretary Panetta to “clearly communicate the scope of the review as well as the impact on individual servicemembers and veterans.”
The full text of Senator Murray’s letter follows:
June 20, 2012
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Panetta:
As I stated during the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Defense FY 2013 Budget Request, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are losing the war against mental and behavioral health conditions. The recent events at Madigan Army Medical Center, where hundreds of soldiers have had their proper diagnosis of PTSD restored after being told they were exaggerating their symptoms, lying, and being labeled malingers, demonstrate the weaknesses within the Department of Defense in properly evaluating and diagnosing behavioral health conditions.
As you acknowledged, huge gaps remain in how both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs approach, diagnose and deal with these cases. I was pleased to see you share my belief that a review of behavioral health evaluations and diagnoses in support of the disability evaluation system needs to be a Department led effort. A review across each service is a necessary step forward in addressing concerns I have been raising about both the disability evaluation system and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health conditions. I applaud your commitment to undertake this comprehensive review, however, I have questions about how the Department will proceed.
- Has the Department developed or provided guidance to the services in order to accomplish this review? If so, I would request copies of any guidance that has been developed or issued.
- What is the timeline for execution of this review? When do you expect the other services to begin this review and when do you expect findings and recommendations from each of the services?
- Which senior leaders at the Department and each service will be responsible for conducting this review and the development and implementation of recommendations?
- How will the Army’s current review be incorporated into this broader effort?
As the review begins, the Department of Defense must clearly communicate the scope of the review as well as the impact on individual servicemembers and veterans. Appropriate steps must also be taken to ensure the performance of this review does not adversely impact the timeliness of cases currently processing through the disability evaluation system.
Ensuring greater consistency in the evaluation and diagnosis of behavioral health conditions is not the only challenge currently confronting the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). As highlighted by a recent Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing I held on IDES, the number of men and women enrolled in this system continues to climb, the number of servicemembers cases meeting both of the Departments’ timeliness goals is unacceptably low, and the amount of time it takes to provide benefits to a servicemember transitioning through the system has risen each year since inception. Both Departments must take immediate action to reverse these trends.
Following a recent discussion with Deputy Secretary Carter on these issues, I outlined a series of recommendations to improve the disability evaluation system. The letter to Deputy Secretary Carter dated June 6, 2012 outlining these recommendations is enclosed, and I urge you to act quickly to implement these solutions. I appreciate the opportunity, which you offered at the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, to discuss these issues with Secretary Shinseki and you in the near future, and I look forward to hearing your recommendations about how we can improve this system.
I appreciate your attention to this request and I remain committed to working with you to address these very serious issues.
cc: The Honorable Carl Levin
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki