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May-19-2008 11:33printcomments

VA Busted Again Over Poor Diagnosis and Mistreatment of PTSD Vets

There are good people working for the VA, but its leadership keeps trying to cut wounded veterans off at the knees.

American soldier in Afghanistan watches a British soldier prepare his weapon
American soldier in Afghanistan watches a British soldier prepare his weapon. Photo: Tim King Salem-News.com

(SALEM, Ore.) - Maybe it was fate, perhaps it is what many refer to as "Murphy's Law"; either way the spirit of the Veteran's Administration reared its ugly head last week when an email in a few simple words, nearly sized up what many believe is their general policy in its treatment of combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

That policy in layman's terms begins with the agency's position to do anything possible to avoid paying veterans what they deserve, and results in them pumping veterans full of hard drugs to essentially make them vegetables. They can't complain after all, when they are no longer themselves. The VA creates this scenario in tens of thousands of Americans who deserve something better.

It all came to a head last week over a simple email. That electronic message contained a VA psychologist’s direction to staff at a Texas veterans facility to withhold diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The author of the email, Norma J. Perez, is the PTSD program coordinator at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas. The email instructs staff to not provide the right medical diagnosis: "given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out."

This caretaker of America's injured combat veterans suggested to her staff that they "consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder."

Then as if to underscore the revelation, never intended for public eyes to see, the VA's Perez wrote that the staff at the VA "really don’t ... have the time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD."

Damage Control

As would be expected, any action on the part of the VA to remove this counterproductive employee, is being ignored by VA Secretary James Peake. He took the time to call Perez’s email "inappropriate" and told reporters that it didn’t reflect VA policy, even though thousands of veterans ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq, to Vietnam, Korea and WWII will tell you it does. Peake told the Washington Post that Perez was "repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization."

To many, the only just answer when you actually find a bad apple, it to throw it away, and not pretend it is something other than rotten fruit. But Peake indicated that Perez – a psychologist – was staying in her job, after becoming "extremely apologetic" when counseled.

Keeping the faith

It is hard to imagine things improving any time soon for veterans who exist in a system that our government has never in history, allotted enough money to adequately fund. People of prior generations recall the plight of the Vietnam Veteran, highly discriminated against over the acts of a few veterans, and many see a repeat already starting to happen.

In fact, we reported in June 2007, that soldiers coming home from the war in Afghanistan, people I spent time with in-country while covering the war there, were being treated a little better than animals in a "compound" on Fort Carson in Colorado, miles from the mainside of the base, under guard and behind a barbed wire fence. (see: Oregon Troops Home From War are Under Lockdown at Fort Carson) These soldiers who had been deployed away from their families for at least a year already, were receiving this level of respect as a return home opener. Imagine how the VA gets away with treating ailing veterans who aren't in a uniform any longer. They quickly become just a number.

But politicians like Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat in Washington state, say the VA has good people inside and they are impacted by reports like these. She told CBS News that, "VA staff across the country are working their hearts out to get our veterans the care they need and deserve." She added however, that "emails like these make their jobs far more difficult."

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, along with the chairs of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, said on Friday that they would investigate the matter. Senator Barack Obama called Perez’s email "outrageous".

President George W. Bush seems to remain under the impression that the VA is a working system.

A California Democrat however, Rep. Bob Filner, who heads the House committee, wants to know whether the Texas psychologist was acting on orders. "Where is she getting it from," Filner believes Peake should explain, the Associated Press reported him saying. "Why is she saying this? Who is giving her the order?"

That seems like the best question anyone asked, but it is not like they are going to get a solid answer without prying teeth.

It was only last month when the Rand Corp. released a report indicating that about 300,000 soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD or major depression. Dr. Phil Leveque of Salem-News.com and other combat veterans, place the number at one million.

Nothing new for the VA

This all comes on the heels of the VA being busted for lying about the number of suicide cases among veterans. (see: VA Inadvertently Confirms that a Thousand Vets a Month are Attempting Suicide) This is a very serious position the government keeps walking into. The VA's Dr. Ira R. Katz, Ph.D. wrote: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our metical facilities." (misspelling retained)

Interestingly, the Katz email was written right after Veterans Affairs provided CBS News information showing there were a total of 790 attempted suicides in the year 2007. Of course the figure is not even comparable to the number Katz sent to his media adviser in the email that was never meant to be seen.

A dismal report, yes, but through a process of exposing the lies and replacing the liars, there stands a chance that life for PTSD veterans can improve. If you are a PTSD sufferer, military or otherwise, you are encouraged to share your story with us and we will help as much as possible with our resources. Write to: newsroom@salem-news.com/ You can not ask too much for the veterans who serve this nation with pride and it is not too much to expect that they will be cared for upon their return, anything less is completely unacceptable.

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated only with Google News. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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UNCLESAM"S BROTHER June 17, 2009 10:40 pm (Pacific time)

Our government sucks compared to other countries like Europe and Canada. I am not proud of our country. We are weak sheep are surely brain washed.


TempusFlora July 24, 2008 6:11 pm (Pacific time)

VA HOSPITAL LOCKS FEMALE VETERAN IN PSYCHO WARD, WITH ALL MALE PAIENTS! I am a female Vietnam era Veteran. I went to the ER at Wade Park in Cleveland on June 30, 2008 because I had a cold and thought I needed an antibiotic. Instead, in less than 15 minutes with a ER full of male patients and fast tract not being available. They managed to process me, diagnosed me as psychosomatic and a hypochondriac, and put me in 23 hour lock down with all male patients. Not your everyday patients. I'm talking drug addicted, alcoholic, mentally ill homeless men off the street!. I was terrified. I was locked in an open bay area with one very dirty bathroom, no bed, and a thin blanket. No privacy curtain...nothing! The staff was from hell. I cried, I begged for help, I repeated over and over that I had PTSD 1st and secondary. I had a syndrome not a psychosis, and fibromyalgia. I was a victim of being stalked and assaulted, they could have cared less. I begged them to check my records since they were the ones who diagnosed me. I was ignored. The more I tried to tell them of their mistake, the more I was threatened with sedation. I told them that I did not feel safe. They said that if anything happened to me that it would be my fault. I couldn't believe that they could think that it was ok to place a female who had been assaulted, in a locked room with strange men. They thought I was alone when I entered the ER, but I wasn't. I have a witness. And, according to their records, he told them that I had a very bad cold and that I was under stress and that they should not keep me over-night. I guess he isn't a Veteran so lucky for him they didn't lock him up. I also have another witness, a police officer from Brecksville, who tried to get me out. Even if they thought I was mad hatter nuts....which I am not, they still did not have the right to put me in a locked room with mentally ill men. I contacted a patient advocate who said it is my word against theirs. They felt that I had three of the six things that justified putting me in the ER Psycho ward. One being the fact that I didn't give proper eye contact. I had a very bad cold and was blowing my nose and coughing. Also, they didn't believe I had a cold so I was hallucinating. They said I was paranoid because I thought someone had broken into my apartment. Someone did. I was not suicidal, nor homicidal. I did not do anything to justify this. I didn't have time. Remember, I was processed in less than 15 minutes, and diagnosed and I hadn't even seen the nurse or doctor yet. I can not believe that this is acceptable. A friend said that I should just let it go, but I can't. What is happening to the Veterans that can not speak for themselves? They drug them. That is what they do. They give them drugs, a chair to sleep on, and a warm meal. I repeat, they get a chair, they do not get a bed. To a homeless vet, this might be acceptable, but to me it is not. I am not willing to allow them to use me so they can fill the ER Psycho ward with patients who do not belong there, just so they can justify having a staff of 6 nurses, a case worker, a doctor, and a police force. What happened to me was wrong on so many levels. And when the patient advocate doesn't feel it's wrong to put a female veteran locked in a room full of men, than he isn't working on my behalf. My name is Michelle and I am the person that this happened to. Please feel free to spread my story to everyone who is a female veteran, a Vietnam veteran, a person with PTSD, and fibromyalgia. The staff showed me absolutely no compassion. Anyone who has a loved one who is a veteran, do not allow your loved one to go to the ER by themselves. The treatment of the men who were in there with me is inexcusable in this day and age, and since civilians can't go in there....not even your personal doctor or clergy, who is there to monitor the treatment? I tried to see my preacher but they denied that, and I thought a clergy can even get into death row. So, who are they protecting? It's their word against mine. I'm willing to take a polygraph. I'm sure they had camera's....let's get the video. I'll sign a release. I have nothing to hide.


Anita Allbee June 21, 2008 2:12 pm (Pacific time)

Dear VA Secretary James Peake: How do you let alone Ms/Mrs. Perez look in a mirror or sleep at night knowing ALL you clearly care about is protecting your VA-own!! It sickens me to read the lengths that you the Veterans Administration and our US Government will go to to deny ALL THOSE MEN AND WOMEN (aka Veterans) who have selflessly been willing to serve in wars risking bodily injury and yes death for all of us. I hope Michael Moore etc. can produce a new movie soon and come and visit you and yours. I must go now as it is once again time to purge up what sickens me about you Higher-Up Officials at the Veterans Administration. The best persons to run the VA are the Veterans themselves and I can't wait to suggest that to the next President of the United States. Maybe he can deport you and what's her name!! O'h please don't come visit us in Chico, California anytime soon!!


Bill Morris May 22, 2008 9:33 am (Pacific time)

Yes, it appears that the spirit of the Veteran's Administration has indeed reared its ugly head. Sad!


proudmomof2 May 20, 2008 9:31 am (Pacific time)

As long as the government continues to allow these individuals to keep their jobs after becoming "extremely apologetic" the VA system will remain broken. It's time to clean house....sweeping it under the rug doesn't work.


Steve M May 19, 2008 2:52 pm (Pacific time)

I've been waiting over a year for my disability evaluation, then as I was told by my DAV rep, I will no doubt have to appeal and wait for who knows how long? It would be great if the house and senate had just the VA needs addressed alone on one bill, then we can see how they really vote. So the leaders need to show us if they really do care about us veterans, rather than cheap talk. I was overseas when we heard that one senator compared us to nazi's and terrorists. So I don't expect the politicans to get serious about helping us, we are just political pawns, as was my father and uncle who served in VietNam.


thechuck May 19, 2008 11:48 am (Pacific time)

are government what a joke

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