SEATTLE (AP) — The Army has removed the head of the Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state during an investigation into whether soldiers had diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder reversed to reduce medical costs.
"This is a common practice during ongoing investigations and nothing more," Maj. Gen. Phillip Volpe, who heads the Western Region Medical Command, said Monday about the removal of Col. Dallas Homas.
Homas is a West Point graduate whose career has included deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he served as command surgeon. His military honors include two Bronze Stars, The Seattle Times reported (http://is.gd/U0S3oI).
"I remain optimistic that the truth will come out with these investigations," Homas said. "I don't feel that I or my team have done anything wrong."
Homas was appointed commander at Madigan in March 2011. The center is on Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma and serves thousands of soldiers who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The focus of the Army Medical Command investigation is a Madigan forensic psychiatric team that has the lead role in screening soldiers being considered for medical retirement due to PTSD, a condition that results from experiencing or seeing a traumatic event, such as a battlefield casualty.
Symptoms can include recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, irritability and feeling distant from other people. Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD gain at least a 50 percent rating of disability, and qualify for pensions, family health insurance and other financial benefits.
In 2011, an ombudsman investigated complaints from soldiers who said the forensic psychiatric team had reversed earlier diagnoses of PTSD and tagged some of them as possible malingerers.
The ombudsman also wrote a memo about a lecture in which a member of the forensic psychiatric team talked about the need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and not rubber stamp PTSD diagnoses that could result in a soldier earning $1.5 million in benefits over a lifetime.
The memo also drew the attention of lawmakers.
"This is an investigation that has only just begun," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
"The most important thing is that these service members and their families are provided with answers on why cost was a factor in the treatment they sought for the invisible wounds of war, and that the Army takes the right steps to fix it," Murray told The News Tribune, ((http://is.gd/VQpF4z).
The ombudsman investigation resulted in more than a dozen soldiers getting a chance for a second PTSD screening by doctors from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, D.C.
Fourteen of those soldiers will have the results of their Walter Reed reviews detailed in individual meetings at Madigan with Col. Rebecca Porter, chief of behavioral health, Office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com