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Feds clash with board as to jurisdiction over practice standards

A Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist has been reprimanded by the Montana Board of Psychologists, despite a federal attorney’s claim the board had no jurisdiction, according to a report published in the Great Falls Tribune. The psychologist, Robert Batten downgraded a veteran’s injuries suffered in a 2006 car bomb explosion while serving in Iraq, according to the report.

Bateen argued that he was following VA policy when he evaluated Capt. Charles Gatlin at the VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison, and a federal attorney also argued that since Bateen was a federal employee, the board did not have jurisdiction to pursue a claim against Bateen. But the Montana Board of Psychologists rejected the jurisdiction argument, determining that Bateen operated outside the scope of his expertise.

Before moving to Montana, Gatlin was given a number of neurological exams after he suffered injuries from a car bomb explosion in the line of duty. Gatlin was determined to have cognitive and motor deficits that were “likely stable” and was retired from the military with 70 percent disability rating, which was used to determine benefits.

Two years later, Gatlin moved to Montana where he was required to be evaluated once again at the VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison in order to continue receiving benefits. There, Bateen downgraded the injuries of Gatlin, and Gatlin received just a 10 percent disability rating.

Gatlin and his wife, Ariania Del Negro, challenged the decision via the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, arguing that Bateen used improper testing, failed to evaluate all possible cognitive deficits, did give credence to the earlier, more thorough test results, and rendered opinions in an area of psychology that he was not qualified for.

The veterans’ agency rejected all appeals along with a request for a referral to a neuropsychologist, according to the report, but in a September 4 ruling, the Montana Board of Psychologists ruled Bateen must partake in additional training before he can continue to perform neuropsychological evaluations.

“A Licensee has an independent professional obligation to ensure his work as a psychologist complies with the statutes and rules governing his license,” the state licensing board said.

Ariana Del Negro believes that the board’s ruling will also allow for a more open appeals process to help improve VA accountability, “When people are frustrated with the absence of VA accountability, we believe we have created a pathway whereby the employees of the VA can be held accountable for grievous acts… And it can be duplicated in other states.” Del Negro said.


Read more about the boards’ ruling here.