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Army: PTSD still difficult to diagnose

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

SEATTLE — An Army report released Friday finds the service still has trouble diagnosing and treating soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, despite more than doubling its number of military and civilian behavioral health workers over the past five years.

Confusing paperwork, inconsistent training and guidelines, and incompatible data systems have hindered the service as it tries to deal with behavioral health issues, the report said. It's a crucial issue: After a decade of war, soldier suicides outpace combat deaths.

In May, the Army commissioned a task force to conduct a sweeping review of how it evaluates soldiers for mental health problems at all its facilities. The review came under pressure from Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, who was upset to learn that hundreds of soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center south of Seattle had had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team, resulting in a potential cut to their benefits and questions about whether the changes were made to save money.

About 150 of those soldiers eventually had their diagnoses restored.

“I am pleased that the Army completed this review and has vowed to make fixes over the next year, though I am disappointed it has taken more than a decade of war to get to this point,” Murray said. “Many of the 24 findings and 47 recommendations in this report are not new. Creating a universal electronic health record, providing better rural health access, and standardizing the way diagnoses are made, for instance, have been lingering problems for far too long. Our service members and their families deserve better.”

The Army has made some strides, including cutting how long it takes soldiers to obtain a disability evaluation and publishing a guide to the process.

The task force interviewed 750 people stationed around the globe, conducted listening sessions with 6,400 others and reviewed more than 140,000 records. The Army's Medical Command reviewed diagnoses for soldiers evaluated for behavioral health problems from October 2001 until last April.

Since September 2001, the report found, 4.1 percent of all soldiers deployed wound up with a behavioral health diagnosis such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

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