Army Addresses Patient Privacy and Legal Concerns in Recent Story
Dec 03, 2007
Regarding the Dec. 2 story in a Washington, D.C., newspaper about Army Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside's medical and legal case, the U.S. Army position is very clear: no decision has been made yet as to whether charges against the officer will proceed to court martial. That is the purpose of the Article 32 investigation: the investigating officer will look at existing evidence and circumstances and advise the court-martial convening authority so he may determine whether a court martial is warranted or dispose of the charges in some other appropriate manner.
We have to take this seriously. The charges against the lieutenant include allegations of kidnapping and aggravated assault. We cannot ignore these allegations and we must take proper legal steps to address them carefully. The Army and American society are not consequence-free environments. We are now in the midst of this impartial process. Again, no decisions have been made.
One source of great concern is an unfortunate public airing of certain details of this officer's behavioral health status. We will not share highly personal details of the lieutenant's medical situation. The Army considers the personal medical conditions of our Soldiers under our care - and she is under our care - to be the most private of matters. To report details of personal medical conditions without proper consent of an individual also is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The American public should know we take individual privacy very seriously and will protect the medical information about the lieutenant and all our patients.
The article implies that there are two "parts" of the Army at work here: battle-hardened combat veteran leaders at odds with Army medical professionals. This simply isn't true. In every case, an individual's needs must be weighed against the needs of the Army and the Nation it protects. Senior leaders are at work weighing these competing needs in the context of a very complex case involving allegations of serious misconduct in a battle zone and equally serious potential psychiatric explanations for this behavior. All leaders are working together in due process under the Uniform Code of Military Justice where the advice and findings of medical professionals certainly is heard to do the right thing for this officer and the Army.
The article more correctly describes the ongoing efforts of the Army and the Defense Department to deal honestly and directly with the behavioral health needs of our Soldiers and Families. This requires that Soldiers are forthcoming about their own personal histories of behavioral health challenges and actively seek the care of available professional mental health providers both in garrison and on deployments if they encounter problems. We cannot remove any stigma associated with behavioral health and its treatment without this proactive approach.
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Media note: For more information, please call Army Public Affairs: (703) 697-2564.
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