Witness Testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Donna R. Van Derveer, USA (Ret.), (Veteran), Ashville, AL
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and Distinguished Committee Members. My name is LTC Donna R. Van Derveer, (Ret.), and I am originally from Washington, DC, but currently reside in Ashville, AL.
I am honored to say I’ve served 29 years in the Army and Army Reserve as a Military Police Officer, and served my country with great pride and distinction. I served in Iraq as the Antiterrorism/Force Protection Chief for Multi-National Corps—Iraq from August 2004 through January 2005. During my tour, I faced numerous rocket attacks and barely escaped with my life after a small arms round came through my trailer.
Upon returning from Iraq, I experienced increasing issues with sleep disturbance, nightmares, depression, memory loss, irritation, anger, and an inability to concentrate and multi-task. I knew that I had a serious problem, but feared that my security clearance and career would be impacted, by seeking help. I did receive surgery on my right knee that I injured in Iraq.
In 2006, I served as an Action Officer for J8-PAD, Joint Staff, Pentagon. During this tour, I eventually sought help through DSM. Even with counseling, I was unable to manage my stress and give 100 percent to my position. I requested Early Release from my tour.
After delay and denial of medical treatment, abusive counseling sessions, being relieved of duty, suspension of my security clearance and a four-day stay in Ward 54 at WRAMC as a civilian in non-duty status, I finally received help. On September 27, 2007, I was put on MRP2 orders and attached to the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed.
The 2 years and 4 months spent at Walter Reed was no less challenging than what I had already faced. The issue of improper diagnosis impacted my care. My psychiatrist placed an erroneous entry in my medical records, causing a delay of proper care for PTSD for over a year. This error impacted my Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board (MEB/PEB), thereby reflecting PTSD as “Existed Prior to Service.” I was forced to prove my service and incident that occurred in Iraq, since females are considered Non-Combatants even in a combat zone.
The MEB/PEB process was excruciating for me. From my experience, I see the purpose of the DES Pilot Program is to expedite the process to save the Army money rather than provide for the soldiers disability compensation and wellbeing.
I received 50 percent disability from the Army for PTSD and 90 percent from the VA for PTSD and various other conditions. The Army determined that I overcame Presumption of Fitness for PTSD and nothing else, even though weeks earlier the PEB found that I should receive 80-percent disability, and was forwarded for processing.
As a veteran, receiving care through the VA, I have not seen a psychiatrist since I retired. I see a psychologist once a month versus seeing a caregiver at Walter Reed once or twice a week. In my eyes, this is minimal care. I was told that this is due to staffing. I was given the option to travel 65 miles one-way for additional behavioral health care. This is unrealistic for me as well as other veterans.
The lack of behavioral health care should be of great concern. Those vets placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List are required Re-evaluations. My initial re-eval was to be in July 2010. On September 7, 2010, I was informed that Fort Benning was backlogged due to the psychiatrist leaving, that my re-eval would be delayed for another 8 months. Putting veterans lives on hold and extending the transition process is unfair and unjust treatment.
In summary, the transition process lacks concern for the soldier/veteran from the individual unit through the MEB/PEB process to the care provided by the VA. Behavioral health care, proper diagnosis and need for more providers are significant issues for the Army, as well as the VA. The establishment of a Veterans Trust Fund to ensure these issues are not experienced by future generations of warriors due to fiscal constraints is imperative and should be a national priority.