Norma Perez is a psychologist who leads the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) program at a medical facility for veterans in Temple, Texas. As we read in the Washington Post, she is pretty busy with claims. Given that veterans with a PTSD diagnosis are eligible for up to $2,527 a month in disability benefits, she came up with a great way to reduce caseloads and save money: stop making the diagnosis.
In an email to mental health specialists and social workers at the facility, she recommended that they consider using a diagnosis of "Adjustment Disorder" (which does not involve a disability payment). She added that they "really don't have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD." An interesting concept, given that Perez was in charge of a PTSD unit.
Unfortunately for Perez, the email was leaked to veteran advocacy groups and all hell broke loose. John Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org and an Iraq war veteran stated that "many veterans believe that the government just doesn't want to pay out the disability that comes along with a PTSD diagnosis, and this revelation will not allay their concerns."
Melanie Slaon, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (an oxymoron, perhaps), was more blunt: "It is outrageous that the VA is calling on its employees to deliberately misdiagnose returning veterans in an effort to cut costs. Those who have risked their lives serving our country deserve far better."
Stressed Out Norma
The VA has tossed Perez under the bus. Veteran Affairs Secretary James Peake issued a statement calling Perez's email "inappropriate" and incompatible with VA policy. The Perez doctrine "has been repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization." Peake went on to state that Perez has been "counseled" and is "extremely apologetic." She remains in her job.
Let's face it. Perez has been under a lot of stress lately. She could probably find a shrink to put her out of work for a few weeks, but she should not count on workers comp to pick up the tab. Stress claims are rarely compensable. Norma's stress is both work-related and self-induced. When it comes to benefit entitlements, she is on her own.