Everyone at some point in their life goes to see the doctor. It may be a cold, or the flu, a broken bone, but eventually, everyone goes to see a doctor. One of the assumptions we, as patients, make is that anything we tell our doctor will be kept secret under the auspices of “Doctor/Patient Confidentiality.” Would your discussions with your doctor be different if this weren’t the case? What happens when that confidentiality is shattered? What if you knew that what you were about to discuss could be given to a reporter for all the world to see? In one recent case, this is exactly what happened. A Veteran sought Mental Health Treatment from the VA. He then committed a horrendous crime. Following this crime, the Veterans Administration, not under court order, but simply because they were asked, released the Veteran’s entire mental health record to reporters.
We see it in almost every police or court drama on TV where we all know the doctor knows something, but the detectives are told “I would love to help, but I can’t.” There are exceptions to this rule, for example if you are an immediate threat to yourself or someone else, if there is a warrant (with probable cause) from a judge. There is good reason for this, when we visit the doctor, sometimes the discussion is awkward and embarrassing at best. We tell the doctor all, to help him better diagnose what is going wrong. This confidentiality becomes even more important when discussing more than the sniffles, or the result of eating that gas station egg salad sandwich. People go to the doctor for treatment of STD’s, that weird rash, and for mental health issues. But in the end, we know, or at least hope that if someone who has no need for the information, or absent a warrant, our doctors will say “I would love to help, but I can’t.” Unfortunately, for Veterans, that may not be the case.
Before I go much farther, I will say unequivocally that the actions of the Veteran who assassinated five Dallas Police Officers was wrong, abhorrent even. Whatever his motives, it should not have happened, those five families should have their fathers and sons. Nothing in this article is meant in any way to justify that Veteran’s actions. However, as horrid as his crime may be, we must question one aspect of the media investigation, as it sheds light on a VA scandal that everyone seems to have missed. The reason I am addressing this issue is not, I repeat NOT, to justify the shooter’s actions, but because of the precedent it sets for every Veteran in this country, as well as the potential impact against all citizens with the implementation of Obamacare, and the left’s relentless call for “single payer” healthcare.
In the media frenzy over the Dallas Shooting everyone wanted to know what happened and what could make a Veteran commit such an act. Was it PTSD? Was it yet another case of the VA dropping the ball, and denying treatment? On August 24th, 2016 both the Associated Press and the Dallas Morning News reported that they were provided the shooter’s mental health treatment records as the result of a Freedom of Information Act Request. While most read the article to find out about the shooter’s service in Afghanistan and to find out if he had PTSD, I viewed it somewhat differently. I am a Veteran. I came home from Iraq with a TBI and PTSD. I have also been treated at the VA for mental health. I asked, what about my record? Are all Veterans’ health records subject to FOIA requests from reporters?
There are two basic laws that cover what can and cannot be released by the government in this situation. Those laws are the Freedom of information Act (FOIA) and the health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). We have all seen how Obama and Hillary Clinton’s State Department have fought FOIA Requests tooth and nail. In this case, a medical record was asked for by reporters, and simply handed over. FOIA states that unless the information falls into one of nine exemptions, the government agency must provide information that is requested. Some of these exemptions include personnel files, classified material, etc. Exemption 3 states that “Information Specifically Exempted by Other Statutes” is not to be disclosed. This is where HIPAA comes into play. HIPAA is another statute that has a specific list of when and to whom sensitive medical information may be released. There is no exemption to HIPAA for reporters. There is for Law Enforcement (with a warrant), and various other exemptions, but there is none for reporters wanting to write about a highly publicized crime. HIPAA actually states that sensitive health records are to be sealed for 50 years after the death of the patient. There is no statutory reason that the VA should have released private mental health records to the Dallas Morning News, the Associated Press, or any other news organization. Bluntly, regardless of who the patient was, or what he had done, the VA broke the law.
My guess as to why this was done is reasonably simple. The VA has had scandal after scandal and did not want the VA to be blamed for a Veteran going on a shooting rampage that left five police officers dead. I did research to see if the records were leaked by Law Enforcement, or others who have a legal right to the information and could find no record of that being the source. Actually, in the August 24th article the Dallas Morning News clearly stated that the information was provided directly to them by the VA in response to a FOIA request. But the damage the VA has caused by their knee-jerk reaction to defend themselves may be greater than if they had followed the law and kept the information confidential. I now have serious questions as to whether the VA will keep my records confidential. Ever Veteran should be worried. Could the VA release the records of high profile Veterans such as Senators and Congressman in an attempt to sway an election? Even worse is the fact that one of the hardest things for a Veteran to do is to actually seek help, I know this first hand. The VA has a hard time, partly due to their own failings, getting Veterans to just walk in the door and ask for help with PTSD, and other mental health issues. Why would a Veteran, or anyone seek help from a doctor if they believe that what they say in confidence will be handed to a reporter just because that reporter was curious or wanted to write a story. What implications will this have for other health records under Obamacare? The VA scandal no one is talking about is that the VA is releasing Mental Health Records to reporters illegally. This goes beyond what they should do, such as getting Veterans appointments in a timely fashion, this is a violation of long standing practice and law that goes to the very core of their mission. The VA must answer why and under what statutory authority did the Veterans Administration release the Dallas Shooters records.