New Army order clears way for benefits for some

TACOMA — An Army order issued this month is meant to clear the way for up to 21 former Madigan Army Medical Center patients to receive benefits for mental health conditions.

The Army agency that sets final medical records for disabled soldiers has been ordered to disregard reports from Madigan doctors under scrutiny last year for their handling of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, the News Tribune reported Saturday.

The new directive signed by Assistant Secretary of the Army Karl Schneider on Nov. 7 says reports by Madigan’s forensic psychiatrists should be discarded if they conflict with other patient reviews.

The order comes nearly two years after the Army suspended the hospital’s forensic psychiatry team over concerns that its doctors were reversing PTSD diagnoses.

About 400 Madigan patients were called back to the hospital last year and re-evaluated by Army psychologists. Of that group, 158 received PTSD diagnoses that should have entitled them to better disability benefits.

Some could not persuade the Army to correct their official records. They were blocked by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which in some cases upheld the original diagnoses from Madigan’s forensic psychiatrists denying patients benefits for PTSD.

Former Madigan patients expressed guarded relief about Schneider’s order.

“I’m hopeful they’ll change my records because I think that’s the right thing to do, but I’m proud I didn’t take being a victim of the system without fighting it,” Jeanie Chang, 30, of Tenino, told the News Tribune. She has been working with Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray’s office to adjust her medical records.

A Madigan ombudsman in late 2011 drew attention to the Madigan’s forensic psychiatry team after obtaining a PowerPoint presentation that suggested its members were adjusting diagnoses to save the Army money.

A subsequent Army review found the doctors were doing their jobs correctly, but that forensic reviews were not appropriate for widespread use in the Army medical retirement system.

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