Editorial Column: VA Busted Again Over Poor Diagnosis and Mistreatment of PTSD Vets

Salem News

May 19, 2008, Salem, Oregon – Maybe it was fate, perhaps it is what many refer to as “Murphy’s Law”; either way the spirit of the Veteran’s Administration reared its ugly head last week when an email in a few simple words, nearly sized up what many believe is their general policy in its treatment of combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

That policy in layman’s terms begins with the agency’s position to do anything possible to avoid paying veterans what they deserve, and results in them pumping veterans full of hard drugs to essentially make them vegetables. They can’t complain after all, when they are no longer themselves. The VA creates this scenario in tens of thousands of Americans who deserve something better.

It all came to a head last week over a simple email. That electronic message contained a VA psychologist’s direction to staff at a Texas veterans facility to withhold diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The author of the email, Norma J. Perez, is the PTSD program coordinator at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas. The email instructs staff to not provide the right medical diagnosis: “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.”

This caretaker of America’s injured combat veterans suggested to her staff that they “consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder.”

Then as if to underscore the revelation, never intended for public eyes to see, the VA’s Perez wrote that the staff at the VA “really don’t … have the time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”

Damage Control

As would be expected, any action on the part of the VA to remove this counterproductive employee, is being ignored by VA Secretary James Peake. He took the time to call Perez’s email “inappropriate” and told reporters that it didn’t reflect VA policy, even though thousands of veterans ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq, to Vietnam, Korea and WWII will tell you it does. Peake told the Washington Post that Perez was “repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization.”

To many, the only just answer when you actually find a bad apple, it to throw it away, and not pretend it is something other than rotten fruit. But Peake indicated that Perez – a psychologist – was staying in her job, after becoming “extremely apologetic” when counseled.

Keeping the faith

It is hard to imagine things improving any time soon for veterans who exist in a system that our government has never in history, allotted enough money to adequately fund. People of prior generations recall the plight of the Vietnam Veteran, highly discriminated against over the acts of a few veterans, and many see a repeat already starting to happen.

In fact, we reported in June 2007, that soldiers coming home from the war in Afghanistan, people I spent time with in-country while covering the war there, were being treated a little better than animals in a “compound” on Fort Carson in Colorado, miles from the mainside of the base, under guard and behind a barbed wire fence. (see: Oregon Troops Home From War are Under Lockdown at Fort Carson) These soldiers who had been deployed away from their families for at least a year already, were receiving this level of respect as a return home opener. Imagine how the VA gets away with treating ailing veterans who aren’t in a uniform any longer. They quickly become just a number.

But politicians like Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat in Washington state, say the VA has good people inside and they are impacted by reports like these. She told CBS News that, “VA staff across the country are working their hearts out to get our veterans the care they need and deserve.” She added however, that “emails like these make their jobs far more difficult.”

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, along with the chairs of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, said on Friday that they would investigate the matter. Senator Barack Obama called Perez’s email “outrageous”.

President George W. Bush seems to remain under the impression that the VA is a working system.

A California Democrat however, Rep. Bob Filner, who heads the House committee, wants to know whether the Texas psychologist was acting on orders. “Where is she getting it from,” Filner believes Peake should explain, the Associated Press reported him saying. “Why is she saying this? Who is giving her the order?”

That seems like the best question anyone asked, but it is not like they are going to get a solid answer without prying teeth.

It was only last month when the Rand Corp. released a report indicating that about 300,000 soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD or major depression. Dr. Phil Leveque of Salem-News.com and other combat veterans, place the number at one million.

Nothing new for the VA

This all comes on the heels of the VA being busted for lying about the number of suicide cases among veterans. (see: VA Inadvertently Confirms that a Thousand Vets a Month are Attempting Suicide) This is a very serious position the government keeps walking into. The VA’s Dr. Ira R. Katz, Ph.D. wrote: “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our metical facilities.” (misspelling retained)

Interestingly, the Katz email was written right after Veterans Affairs provided CBS News information showing there were a total of 790 attempted suicides in the year 2007. Of course the figure is not even comparable to the number Katz sent to his media adviser in the email that was never meant to be seen.

A dismal report, yes, but through a process of exposing the lies and replacing the liars, there stands a chance that life for PTSD veterans can improve. If you are a PTSD sufferer, military or otherwise, you are encouraged to share your story with us and we will help as much as possible with our resources. Write to: newsroom@salem-news.com/ You can not ask too much for the veterans who serve this nation with pride and it is not too much to expect that they will be cared for upon their return, anything less is completely unacceptable.

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