VA employee told Texas veterans hospital staff to limit PTSD diagnoses

Washington_An internal e-mail written by a Veterans Affairs Department employee suggested avoiding a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans and instead considering a diagnosis that might result in a lower disability payment.

A copy of the e-mail was distributed Thursday by the groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a congressional watchdog group, and The e-mail dated March 20 had been forwarded to, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans lobbying group opposed to the Bush administration's handling of the war and veterans issues.

The name of the sender and the recipients were blacked out by the groups. The e-mail has the subject title "Suggestion."

"Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that we refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder, R/O PTSD," the e-mail said.

It also said, "Additionally, we really don't or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD."

VA Secretary James Peake issued a statement calling the e-mail sender's suggestions "inappropriate" and said the employee had been repudiated and was apologetic. The VA did not release the name of the employee.

"We are committed to absolute accuracy in a diagnosis and unwavering in providing any and all earned benefits," Peake said. "PTSD and the mental health arena is no exception."

Just last week, Peake was called to Capitol Hill to answer questions about internal e-mails that surfaced during a trial that seemed to suggest VA officials were hiding the number of veterans trying to kill themselves. One e-mail started with "Shh!" Some lawmakers have said the official who wrote it should be fired, but Peake has said he has no plans to do so. Peake promised to make the agency more open.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event such as war. Nightmares, flashbacks, and substance abuse can be among the symptoms.

A recent study by the Rand Corp., found that that about one in five troops who found in Iraq or Afghanistan have symptoms of major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jon Soltz, an Iraq War Veteran who is chairman of, said some veterans have suspected they received a diagnosis of an adjustment disorder instead of the correct diagnosis of PTSD because the payout to them would be less.

"Many veterans believe that the government just doesn't want to pay out the disability that comes along with a PTSD diagnosis," Soltz said in a statement, "and this revelation will not allay their concerns."

Kimberly Hefling, AP Writer Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.