TACOMA, Wash., March 22 (UPI) -- The killing of 16 Afghans allegedly by a U.S. soldier came as the Army investigated the handling of post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses, officials said.
Weeks before Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed the Afghan civilians, the U.S. Army Medical Command began an investigation into why an intensive outpatient treatment program for PTSD at the Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma, Wash., was closed in 2010 -- the same year about 18,000 soldiers returned to Lewis-McChord from Iraq and Afghanistan, The Seattle Times reported.
Bales' case has increased the scrutiny of mental-health resources offered to soldiers in general and at Madigan in particular, the newspaper said.
Bales, who was in Afghanistan on his fourth tour in a combat zone, received a mental-health check as part of a 2008 certification to qualify as a sniper, as well as other routine physical- and mental-health checks before deployment and after returning from overseas duty.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, received a statistical breakdown compiled as part of an ongoing Army Medical Command investigation into the Madigan screening team's practices for PTSD.
"What we know is that since 2007 more than 40 percent of those service members went in the door with a PTSD diagnosis and that diagnosis changed to something else or was overturned entirely," Murray told the Times. "I worry that there are other service members that didn't seek help because of what they have seen their fellow soldiers go through."
A PTSD diagnosis can qualify a soldier for a medical retirement including a pension, health insurance for spouse and dependents and commissary privileges.
A memo by an Army Medical Command ombudsman said a Madigan psychiatrist told colleagues in a lecture a PTSD diagnosis could cost taxpayers $1.5 million during the lifetime of a soldier who medically retires, the Times reported.
In a statement to the Times, the Western Regional Medical Command declined to comment to "protect the integrity of the process" during the ongoing investigations.