By Jeremy Herb
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) pressed Army leaders to explain why 40 percent of post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses were changed at the Washington base where the accused killer of 16 Afghan civilians was stationed.
The Army is investigating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord after more than 300 were reversed over the past five years. The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that the reversals amounted to more than 40 percent of all PTSD cases at Madigan.
Bales was on his fourth deployment in 10 years, and he had a brain injury and lost part of a foot during his first three tours in Iraq, which his attorney told Bloomberg News could be relevant.
“Some people do six or seven tours, but the question is whether the last tour was too much for someone with a concussive brain injury,” attorney John Henry Browne told Bloomberg.
Bales’s case is not connected to the PTSD diagnoses at Lewis-McChord, but the killings have thrust the issue into the spotlight.
At a Wednesday Senate hearing on the Army budget, Murray asked whether the unit at Lewis-McChord was an isolated incident or if it could be more widespread. Officials at Madigan reportedly discussed how expensive a PTSD diagnosis could be over the life of a soldier.
“In light of all the tragedy we’ve seen stemming from untreated invisible wounds of war today, I’m sure you’d agree this is very concerning,” Murray said. “I want to know if it’s system-wide.”
Army Secretary John McHugh said that the Army had launched a
full investigation into the cases at Lewis-McChord. The Army is planning a comprehensive review of its mental health services, specifically focusing on PTSD, McHugh added during Tuesday's hearing.
The Pentagon does not plan to conduct a similar, department-wide review, but is "fully aware" of McHugh's planned review, DoD spokesman George Little told reporters on Tuesday.
Addressing issues concerning PTSD and other mental afflictions caused by combat "is a priority for us to look at" inside DoD, Little said, adding the department fully supports the Army's effort.
“We should be patient advocates,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said at Tuesday's hearing. “That’s the mindset we’re going to work on changing.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also asked McHugh and Odierno about the potential mental stressors in light of the Afghan murders, seeking to highlight that this was an isolated incident.
Graham asked how many soldiers had at least four deployments like Bales, which McHugh said totaled more than 50,000.
“And this is a severe aberration and does not reflect who our men and women are in terms of their behavior under stress, do you agree with that?” Graham asked.
Both McHugh and Odierno agreed.
Carlo Munoz contributed to this report.