Unlicensed psychologists used in war

Father protestedafter son's death

The Associated PressJune 5, 2009 

The practice of sending unlicensed psychologists to Iraq to treat troops did not violate Army regulations, according to a military inspector general's investigation instigated by a complaint from the father of a soldier who committed suicide.

The soldier, Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, 20, was found dead in his barracks in Iraq in 2005. Three weeks earlier, an unlicensed psychologist asked by the soldier's captain to evaluate him said in a report that Scheuerman was "capable of claiming mental illness" to manipulate superiors and sent him back to his unit.

A copy of the Army Medical Command's inspector general's investigation, completed in November, was obtained by The Associated Press using a Freedom of Information Act request.

Before policy was changed in 2006, it was a common practice in Iraq for the military to deploy unlicensed providers with the stipulation that they work under supervision.

Policy changed in '06

The policy was similar to that in civilian settings, but was changed after the military determined that supervision was difficult to do in a combat setting.

Scheuerman's father, Chris Scheuerman, of Sanford, N.C., said the then-unlicensed psychologist who treated his son should never have been in a position to do so and is culpable in his son's death.

The father also complained that a top medical officer, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, who served as the psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, knew of the provider's qualifications, and failed to take corrective action after his son's death.

Defense Department rules require a "doctoral level" health-care provider to evaluate a soldier who is thought to be at risk for suicide.

Then-Army Capt. Chris Hansen, whose report also said Scheuerman should be taken seriously if he acted depressed again, received his doctoral degree in 2007 and his license in 2008, in Alabama. He is currently stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.

It is not clear whether Hansen was supervised.

The inspector general determined that the father's complaints were unfounded.

Father dissatisfied

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Chris Scheuerman said military medical commanders "absolutely" should've known better than to send unlicensed psychologists to war. He's seeking to have Hansen's license revoked.

"Any reasonable person would know that the worst place to train a psychologist would be in a combat environment," said Scheuerman, a former Army master sergeant who served in the Special Forces.

Ritchie and Hansen were not available for comment, said Lt. Col. George Wright, an Army spokesman. He said in an e-mail message that the Army has taken appropriate actions against individuals involved in the matter.

"We continue to be concerned about suicides, and are increasing our efforts to reduce this tragic occurrence," Wright said. "We grieve the loss of every soldier, no matter what the cause."

At least 211 soldiers have taken their lives while serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while others have committed suicide after returning home. Last year the Army had the highest rate of suicides on record.

Private first class Scheuerman's behavior raised enough alarms that when a call came over the unit's radios that there had been a death, one soldier told investigators he immediately knew who it was who had died.

A separate investigation into the soldier's death last year by the Army inspector general determined that "military-related issues" were a factor in his suicide. It also said personal issues may have contributed.

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