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Lawmakers to examine e-mail from Texas VA employee

Washington_Two congressional committee chairmen said Friday they plan to investigate whether there were broader motives behind a Veterans Affairs Department employee's e-mailed suggestion to diagnose veterans with mental disorders that have a lower disability payout.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he has asked the VA's Inspector General to review diagnosis patterns at the facility.

The VA has identified the sender of the e-mail as a post-traumatic stress disorder team leader at the VA medical center in Temple, Texas.

After a copy of the e-mail was distributed Thursday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a congressional watchdog group, and the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans lobbying group VoteVets.org, VA Secretary James Peake said the action was by a single employee and that the agency was committed to accuracy.

The e-mail dated March 20 was forwarded to VoteVets.org. It said, "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."

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

Akaka said in a statement that he asked Peake to provide renewed guidelines to all VA offices on the proper treatment of PTSD cases.

Last week, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., called Peake before his committee to answer questions about a different set of e-mails that had surfaced during a trial that seemed to suggest VA officials were hiding the number of veterans who were trying to commit suicide. Filner asked Peake to fire those involved with the e-mails, but Peake said after the hearing that he had no plans to do so.

Filner said Friday in an interview at his office that he will likely ask Peake to appear again to answer more questions. Filner said he wants to know what motivated the Texas employee to send the e-mail about saving the VA money.

"Where is she getting it from?" Filner said. "Why is she saying this? Who is giving her the order?"

Although the employee was a team leader, VA spokeswoman Alison Aikele said Friday that the woman was not in management and her e-mail was just a suggestion. "We're not aware of any other instances where this happened," Aikele said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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