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Erik Burgess, Published April 12 2013

Bill will help misdiagnosed veterans, Klobuchar says

MOORHEAD – Tom Figliuzzi makes his living helping veterans.

But sometimes Figliuzzi, veterans service officer for Clay County, is unable to help, his hands tied by a system that doesn’t extend benefits to veterans discharged with “personality disorders.”

“When we hit this barrier, we try to do everything possible to get through,” Figliuzzi said. “There’s nothing we can do, and we’re told ‘It’s the rule.’ ”

Many of those discharged with a personality disorder were likely misdiagnosed and are suffering from another problem entirely, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Klobuchar was in Moorhead Friday introducing her new Service Members Mental Health Review Act, which she says will help correct thousands of misdiagnoses, extending benefits to veterans who rightly deserve them.

The senator cited a Yale Law School study that said more than 31,000 veterans may have been improperly discharged between 2001 and 2010 for a personality disorder, which is considered a pre-existing condition and so does not afford them certain benefits from the Veterans Administration.

As many as 60 percent of those 31,000 may have been misdiagnosed, Klobuchar said Friday, citing the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“In fact, many of them never even saw a licensed mental health professional,” she said.

Female service members are misdiagnosed with personality disorders at “especially high rates,” she said, often in connection with military sexual assaults. An estimated 19,000 female service members were sexually assaulted in 2011, she said.

Klobuchar’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., would require that a mental health professional be a part of medical examinations of veterans.

“Which makes a lot of sense, but it’s not in the law now,” Klobuchar said.

Her bill would also make it easier for veterans to contest errors, which is now a burdensome process.

“They shouldn’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops to do this, but unfortunately that’s how the current system works,” Klobuchar said, adding that her bill allows veterans to use medical information from the Veterans Administration or Department of Defense as evidence.

The senator said the bill would also allow them to “go back in time” and review potential misdiagnoses from past wars.

Figliuzzi called the bill “amazing,” and Klobuchar said it should receive bipartisan support.

“You made a promise to serve us, and we should make a promise to serve you when you return,” Klobuchar said to a room full of veterans.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518