The Veterans Affairs Departments top physician fended off accusations by Congress that the agency deliberately downplays post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses, calling such decisions challenging but also one of the agency's highest priorities.
Let me be very clear, any suggestion that we would not diagnose a conditionany conditionis unacceptable, Michael Kussman, the VAs undersecretary for health, told members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. I would not tolerate such a position for personal and professional reasons.
In March, Norma Perez, a mental health specialist at the Olin E. Teague Veterans Center in Temple, Texas, sent an e-mail to clinicians there advising them to refrain from diagnosing PTSD, instead suggesting a lesser diagnosis. That e-mail, plus another sent earlier this year concerning the number of suicides and suicide attempts among the veteran population, raised concern among lawmakers and advocates that the agency was trying to gloss over mental health issues among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Perez, however, said that her e-mail was meant as a reminder to staff to continue with the PTSD assessment process, which can take months to fully diagnose.
The number of veterans who have submitted claims for PTSD has grown substantially over the past decade, to nearly 329,000 this year from 120,000 in 1999, according to the VA. (Please see a related Beyond the Headlines item below.) -- by Matthew DoBias