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DoD board to review mental health diagnoses

Nov. 29, 2012 - 12:06PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 - 12:06PM  |  
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A Defense Department board responsible for ensuring the accuracy of disability ratings for thousands of troops discharged since 2001 also will conduct the force-wide review of mental health diagnoses ordered earlier this year by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The Physical Disability Board of Review, or PDBR, will be responsible for taking a second look at the cases of service members who completed the disability evaluation process and had their mental health diagnoses changed, according to Dr. Jack Smith, DoD's director of clinical program policy and integration.

The PDBR stood up in 2009 to address inconsistencies in disability ratings awarded by the military services. The board has reviewed more than 2,000 cases and currently has slightly more than 1,200 open cases. An estimated 70,000 personnel are eligible to have their records reviewed by the board, although just a fraction has applied.

Processing time for cases by the PDBR is about 400 days, board president retired Air Force Col. Michael LoGrande said in September.

Defense officials have not said whether it plans to increase the board's budget or staff to handle the additional case load.

DoD also has not said how many mental health discharges are eligible for review.

In an Oct. 5 memo to the service secretaries and the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Panetta said disability evaluation cases between Sept. 11, 2001 and April 30, 2012 which involved a mental health diagnosis that was changed will be looked at.

"The review will be analytically sound, non-bureaucratic, and action-oriented, while also being least disruptive to the behavioral health services and Disability Evaluation System for current service members," Panetta wrote.

Smith said the aim is to complete the reviews within 18 months.

Panetta's new review order stems from problems exposed in 2011 at Madigan Army Medical Center, Wash., where the diagnoses of 290 patients with PTSD were downgraded by a group of psychiatrists reviewing the case files. More than 100 of those patients had their diagnoses restored.

PTSD is a compensable, service-related condition. Other mental health diagnoses such as personality and adjustment disorder are not.

Members of the House Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs committees have pressed for a broader review of more than 30,000 service members separated from the service for mental health conditions that don't rate a disability evaluation, such as adjustment or personality disorders.

Lawmakers say some of those diagnosed troops may actually have service-connected PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, which would qualify them for benefits.

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