May 16, VCS in the News: VA E-Mail Discourages PTSD Diagnosis for Veterans

CBS Evening News

Temple, Texas, May 15, 2008 (CBS) – A Department of Veterans Affairs team leader in Texas suggested mental health professionals should diagnose patients with “adjustment disorder” rather than post traumatic stress disorder in order to save time and money treating veterans, according to an internal VA e-mail.

VA Secretary James Peake immediately called the e-mail “inappropriate” and a violation of VA policy.

On March 20, Norma J. Perez, a PTSD program coordinator and psychologist at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas sent an e-mail with the subject line “Suggestion” to several staffers including psychologists, social workers, and a psychiatrist. In the e-mail, Perez wrote “given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out.” She then went on to say “consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder. . .”

    Read the e-mail, obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and

“This means the veterans will not get disability benefits and health care for PTSD,” Paul Sullivan, the executive director of the advocate group Veterans for Common Sense, told CBS News.

Andrew Pogany, an investigator with the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said he thinks “purposely misdiagnosing someone is a serious ethical issue that [could] fall under malpractice.”

“VA staff across the country are working their hearts out to get our veterans the care they need and deserve,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash), a key member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, “But e-mails like these make their jobs far more difficult.”

In her e-mail, Perez also told staffers that “we really don’t . . . have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”

Sullivan, whose group has a pending lawsuit against the VA to force the agency to improve the treatment of veterans, said this “shows our suit has merit and that the VA lacks the capacity to provide proper care.”

In a statement, however, Secretary Peake said “a single staff member, out of VA’s 230,000 employees, in a single medical facility sent a single e-mail with suggestions that are inappropriate and have been repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization.” He added “the employee has been counseled and is extremely apologetic.”

Peake promised 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.”

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