June 5 VA E-Mail Scandal Update: Top VA Mental Health Official Contradicts VA Manager at Senate Hearing, Says VA Facility is Using Improper Diagnoses for Mental Health

Senator Patty Murray

June 4, 2008, Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned top Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials over a recent e-mail that discouraged VA employees from diagnosing veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The e-mail, which was written by VA manager Dr. Norma Perez, directed VA staff at a facility in Temple, Texas to diagnose “compensation-seeking veterans” with adjustment disorder, a diagnosis that has a lower disability payout than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dr. Perez appeared at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing and was joined by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA’s top mental health official.

During questioning, Dr. Ira Katz said that he did not agree with diagnosing veterans with adjustment disorder in the way that Dr. Perez described – often more than a year after a veteran had returned home. Diagnostic guidelines for adjustment disorder say that it should not be diagnosed more than six months after the traumatic event.

“Unfortunately, today’s hearing raises more questions than it answered,” Murray said after the hearing. “Instead of getting to the bottom of this damaging e-mail, we learned that there may be deeper, systematic problems with how facilities are diagnosing mental health disorders.”

“When the head of the VA’s mental health program says that veterans are being misdiagnosed at any facility, it should raise flags for the whole VA system. Is this isolated or are our vets getting the wrong diagnosis, treatment and care across the country? This is a problem and we need honest answers immediately.”

The VA Committee is awaiting an Inspector General’s Report investigating diagnosing practices.

“About the adjustment disorder diagnoses, my read is actually close to yours,” Katz told Senator Murray during the hearing. “And I would disagree with my colleague about the diagnoses of an adjustment disorder a year after an event, relating it to that event.”

Senator Murray is a senior member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. The witnesses at today’s hearing included Norma J. Perez, PhD, Mental Health Integration Specialist, Austin Outpatient Clinic, and former Coordinator, PTSD Clinical Team, Temple, Texas VA Medical Center, Michael Kussman, MD, Under Secretary for Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, Ira Katz, MD, Deputy Chief of Patient Care Services, Officer for Mental Health, Patrick W. Dunne, Acting Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Brad Mayes, Director of Compensation and Pension Service.

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