JBLM leaders discuss changes to how disability evaluation cases are reviewed, Madigan Commander reinstated
Story by: Sharon Ayala, Western Regional Medical Command
Photo by: Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian
Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, commanding general, Western Regional Medical Command and chief of the Army Medical Corps, left, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding ceneral I Corps JBLM, middle, and Col. Dallas Homas, commander of Madigan Army Medical Center, conduct a recent joint press conference to address questions regarding the Army’s recent announcement about changes to how PTSD cases are processed
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.– Last week, senior leaders from I Corps, the Western Regional Medical Command and Madigan Army Medical Center participated in a press conference to address questions regarding the Army’s recent announcement about changes to how PTSD cases are processed, the reinstatement of Col. Dallas Homas as Commander of Madigan, and the way ahead for the base’s medical community.
Lieutenant General Robert B. Brown, commanding general, I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, opened the August 2 press session by reiterating that his top priority as the senior mission commander is to ensure Service Members and Families are getting access to the care they need, and reduce the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care.
“It is critical as leaders that we reduce the stigma of seeking behavioral health care,” Brown said. “There is a stigma out there and it’s in our society and the Army. I’ve seen a big improvement over the years, but we still need to get after this one.”
Brown added that the Army wants Soldiers to know they can trust their leaders when they seek help for any issue, but especially behavioral health issues.
“As a commander, your number one concern is always taking care of Soldiers, Airmen and Families -- a promise we take very seriously,” Brown said. “A key part of that is providing access to world-class medical care. That’s why we do what we do, because we know we’re going to get world-class health care.”
Specifically discussed during the press conference was the discontinuation of forensic techniques as part of the disability evaluation process at Madigan. This change is the result of a comprehensive review of Madigan’s disability evaluation system as directed by Secretary of the Army John McHugh, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, following concerns that some Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD had that finding changed during a subsequent evaluation at Madigan.
Earlier this year, approximately 425 Soldiers who had their initial PTSD diagnoses changed received notification letters inviting them to Madigan or another military treatment facility, to be re-evaluated. Today, more than half of those individuals have gone through the re-evaluation process.
This, according to Maj. Gen. Richard Thomas, commanding general, Western Regional Medical Command and chief of the Army Medical Corps, introduced variability in how medical evaluation board cases were evaluated throughout the Army Medical Command.
“What we found is that while patients were able to see forensic psychiatrists here (at Madigan), they didn’t always have access to that service at the smaller installations,” explained Thomas. “So it introduced some variance in how Soldiers were evaluated for their medical evaluation boards.”
In the Army’s July 31 press release, General Lloyd Austin, Army vice chief of staff, emphasized that Madigan officials acted in accordance with the standard of practice for civilian disability evaluations, but added that while the evaluation may be fair and appropriate, it’s not optimal for the unique cases that the Army diagnoses and reviews.
Thomas told reporters that the Army Medical Command is a learning institution, and in learning how to do things better, it discovered that although a valuable tool, forensic psychiatry was being used to evaluate the regular types of cases for disability evaluations, which is really appropriately done by the general behavioral health practitioner.
“Forensic psychiatry is a valuable tool. They do insanity hearings, disability evaluations, and a lot of other specialized areas of focus for us,” Thomas explained.
As an analogy, Thomas said, “I compare them to a surgical instrument – you don’t want to use a surgical instrument in all cases, because it’s not necessary,” he said. “We have to be consistent in our application. As Army doctors, there’s one thing we must do to take care of Soldiers -- we have to make sure it’s fair and equitable, and we’re taking care of them—that’s why we’re here.”
Over the last 10 years, Army Medicine has made tremendous strides in the science of medicine such as pain management and traumatic brain injuries, all of which have significantly improved the health of the force, their Family members and Retirees.
During the press conference, Thomas said that PTSD and the evolving and emerging science behind diagnosing and treatment of those injuries is what Army Medicine is all about.
“We’re advancing the science and our capabilities of making sure our Soldiers get the best medical care possible, especially when it comes to those invisible wounds, such as Post-Traumatic Stress. Eighty percent of Soldiers who have a diagnosis of PTSD are not in a hospital, they’re working in our offices and in our formations,” said Thomas. “These are Soldiers who are working every day and doing a good job.”
During the Army’s three month review, Madigan’s commander, Col. Dallas Homas was administratively removed from his command position, which is a normal part of the investigational process. However, the press release announced that Homas had been reinstated as commander of Madigan.
“Col. Homas was temporarily suspended so that we could do a thorough investigation,” Brown said. “There was nothing that he did wrong. He’s the right leader and we’re very excited to have Dallas back in command of Madigan.”
Echoing those sentiments, Thomas said, “This is a great day for Army Medicine. It’s also a great day for Soldiers and Dallas Homas and his Family. He has my complete faith and confidence and he’s the right man to take us forward and to the next level.”
Homas said that he is honored and humbled to return to command at Madigan, and is very excited to be back taking care of Soldiers, Airmen, Families and Retirees. He also thanked Col. Michael Heimall for his leadership as acting commander during the last five months.
“Col. Mike Heimall did a great job in my absence and the team is ready and poised to move forward,” Homas said. “My pledge to all of you is that I will work tirelessly to ensure that Madigan is delivering the finest care that we are capable of delivering.”
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