Feds Probe Marine Mental Health Care

Kristen LaBrie pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges for withholding cancer medications that could have helped her autistic son recover from leukemia. The boy died last year. WBZ-TV

The Defense Department will investigate complaints of substandard mental health care for Marines at Camp Lejeune, according to a North Carolina congressman Thursday who had asked for the probe amid reports of retaliation against a whistleblower.

Public questions about the quality of mental health care provided by a private contractor at the base were raised last year by the September firing of Dr. Kernan Manion, a brain trauma specialist who had complained to commanders about poor facilities, inadequate care programs and weak security.

Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican whose district includes Camp Lejeune, asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a probe of the mental health care issue after Salon.com, which first reported Manion's firing, last week reported on documents it obtained that showed officials had changed Manion's job performance evaluations from good to bad after his complaints.

Jones said the Defense Department's Inspector General told him Wednesday that an investigation is open.

"I am just pleased we got such a quick response," Jones said.

The department's Inspector General did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press and details of the investigation were not clear.

Jones said his office has received numerous complaints from Marines and their families about mental health care at Camp Lejeune.

"There are very serious questions about how the system is working and how that system is supposed to be helping the Marines and their families," Jones told the AP. "There are some issues there. We're taking a giant step with this investigation."

Manion, 59, has 25 years of experience as a psychiatrist with a specialty in traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Manion last year said he was fired for writing memos to his military superiors complaining of shoddy care for Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In e-mails shown to The Associated Press, Manion complained, among other things, that the military was not dealing with PTSD properly and that the hospital lacked security procedures in the event of a Fort Hood-like shooting.

Manion welcomed Jones' call for a probe and said he hoped any investigation would "eliminate the climate of secrecy and reprisal and do much to improve the delivery of mental health care services at Camp Lejeune."

According to Salon.com, Manion's performance review was finished after he was fired, giving him a rating of "satisfactory" in every category. But the review was pulled back by the head of mental health at the hospital and changed. His ratings for judgment, ethical conduct and ability to work with peers were changed to "unsatisfactory" and it was ordered that Manion's positive review be destroyed.

Camp Lejeune hospital spokesman Raymond Applewhite did not return an e-mail from the AP seeking comment on the Salon.com report and the investigation.

In an interview with the AP in January, Capt. Gerard Cox, the hospital's commanding officer, said Manion's concerns were treated seriously and addressed.

Cox said there has been an explosion of demand for mental health care and the Marine Corps is working to keep up.

"There is no question that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced more people with mental health needs," he said. "Our primary concern is to return them to a healthy and successful life."

Cox said the hospital has been rapidly hiring personnel to meet the demand. The hospital is trying to fill more than 50 positions in its mental health department.

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