The AP (6/14, Cassata) reports, “Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday he has ordered all branches of the military to conduct an extensive review of mental health diagnoses amid criticism of how the services treat the men and women suffering the invisible wounds of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under questioning from a Senate panel on Wednesday, Panetta disclosed that he had asked the Air Force and Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, to follow the lead of the Army in launching an independent study of how it evaluates soldiers with possible post-traumatic stress disorder.” The Army review, according to the AP, will “serve as a model for the other services.”
McClatchy (6/14, Mohamed) notes that while testifying before a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Panetta “suggested he meet with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to discuss improvements” in the military’s disability system. The chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) replied, “I totally appreciate your saying that to me today, but sitting down and talking with Secretary Shinseki is something we’ve been hearing for a long time. We need some recommendations and we need to move forward and we need it to be a top priority out of the Pentagon as we transition now out of Afghanistan.”
The Military Times (6/14, Kime) reports, “The Defense Department plans to review all military mental health cases dating to 2001 to ensure troops were not denied appropriate diagnoses or service-related benefits…said” Panetta at Wednesday’s hearing. The “review is necessary to ‘try to build a better system between the Pentagon, the Department of Defense and [Veterans Affairs],’ according to Panetta. ‘I am not satisfied… there are still huge gaps in terms of the differences of how [DoD and VA] approach these cases and how they diagnose the cases and how they deal with them, and frankly, that’s a whole area we have to do much better on,’ Panetta said.”
The Hill (6/14, Herb) “Defcon Hill” blog notes that Murray “told Panetta Wednesday that ‘the Pentagon and the VA are losing the battle on mental and behavioral health conditions.'”
On its website, MSNBC (6/14, Sala) points out, however, that Murray has praised the Army for “opening an investigation into accusations” that some post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses made by the Army “were unfairly overturned”
Analysis: Suicide Is Second Leading Cause Of Death In Military. USA Today (6/14, Zoroya) reports, “The most common way that US servicemembers die outside of combat is by their own hand, according to an analysis released by the Pentagon on Wednesday. Since 2010, suicide has outpaced traffic accidents, heart disease, cancer, homicide and all other forms of death in the military besides combat…says” the report, which points out that one in “four non-combat deaths last year were servicemembers killing themselves.” USA Today adds, “On a related issue, Panetta revealed Wednesday that he will have all service branches follow the Army’s lead in reviewing mental health cases dating to 2001,” in order “to see whether any current or former servicemember was denied appropriate medical retirement benefits.”
VA Examining Why Black Women Have Lowest Suicide Rate In US Population. The National Journal Daily (6/13, Czekalinski, Subscription Publication) noted, “Mental-health experts, the US military, the groups that aid returning service members, their families are trying to provide a sense of support for veterans and active-duty troops in an attempt to prevent the growing number of suicides.” Members of the US military “have been taking their own lives in alarmingly increasing numbers over this past decade at war in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Veterans Affairs “is looking to black women, the group in the US population with the lowest suicide rate, to learn the factors behind that statistic and, hopefully, then determine how best to use that knowledge to help service members.”
— “Pentagon chief orders review of mental diagnoses,”Donna Cassata, Associated Press, June 14, 2012.