Cost of Treating PTSD Could Bankrupt Army

So many soldiers are returning from the conflicts in the Middle East with posttraumatic stress syndrome that the American Armed Services could go broke trying to pay for their medical treatment and disability compensation, according to a memo written by an Army psychiatrist at Madigan Army Medical Center. The doctor was suspended from his clinical duties, while the Army conducts an investigation of the memo.

The psychiatrist wrote that a soldier who retires with the diagnosis of PTSD could cost the government up to $1.5 million over his or her lifetime, because the average benefit paid by the Armed Services to a veteran with a 100% PTSD disability is $2,769 a month. Most soldiers with a diagnosis of PTSD receive at least a 50% disability payment.

The National Institute of Health reports that 11% of the veterans of the conflict in Afghanistan and 20% of those who served in Iraq have PTSD. Part of the reason for the high rates is that each veteran is tested for the disorder before he or she returns home.

Posttraumatic stress syndrome can be so debilitating that victims become unable to perform at work or school. Symptoms are nightmares, anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, inability to concentrate, hypervigilance, and problems with anger management. The disorder increases the risk for substance abuse. Medical researchers are spending millions of dollars through funding by the National Institute of Health as they search for better and less expensive treatments for this mental disorder that was only formally recognized about a decade ago.

The investigation of the memo by the Army Medical Command is being monitored by Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Sen. Murray said that money should not be an object when making a mental health diagnosis.

“This is the opposite of everything that we are working for,” she said. “It is very disheartening to see this in writing.”

Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, in testimony before the House subcommittee on defense appropriations, said that there was no truth to the rumors that the Madigan Center was cutting back on the number of soldiers diagnosed with PTSD.

“Absolutely, the Army is not putting pressure on any of our clinicians,” she said.