Over-Medicated Veterans: Military Abuse and Public Tolerance

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Thomas Catan’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “For Veterans with PTSD, A New Demon: Their Meds” is not news. The over-use of drugs as routine part of battlefield medicine has been noted since the first days of our military deployments to Iraq in the spring of 2003.

Over-reliance on the miracles of modern pharmaceuticals has became just Standard Operating Procedure in the US military.

And, likewise with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs medical system.

Even the casual observer will note substantial evidence that over-medication is endemic to all areas of our nation’s current healthcare systems — military and civilian.

But, in the military and VA, there are even more incentives to “push” pills.

As one example, it’s no coincidence that the senior Pfizer official for “government relations” from 2005 -2010 was a former Director of Veteran Affairs (twice) and long-time inside-the-Beltway power player.   See here »

Pfizer was the firm involved in the Chantix debacle with Iraq war veteran James Elliott and the involuntary testing of this smoking cessation drug — with known significant psychotropic side effects — on a group of “psychologically damaged” vets at the Washington DC Vets Center.

The nature of business in the heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry — and the huge sums spent by the federal government on drugs — means that all major pharmaceuticals have similarly well-connected Potomac Patriots in key lobbying roles.

It’s  also safe to say that these huge firms, thanks to their “K” Street lobbyists and the lack of meaningful oversight by Congress, “own” this part of the federal budget — military and civilian.

Given the complexities and uncertainties of healing damaged minds, whether visible or invisible wounds, and the intensive, expensive work required for the most effective therapies, it’s no surprise the VA finds it much easier to dope ’em up, and send them out the door.

And, in the sad case of the former Marine highlighted in this WSJ article, I’m not sure any amount of effort and other therapies would make a difference.

(Personal admission: dealing with alcohol and drug abusers was the least enjoyable aspect my time as a front-line troop leader, so my hat is off to all those who are truly trying to make a difference in this area where success is so damn difficult to come by, and failures make tragic headlines too damned often.)

The one certainty is that the drug companies make their profits, whether this former Marine takes the meds or flushes them down his toilet.

My bottom line: this is part of the price for an ill-conceived war, a price to be paid for decades to come as too many of our Vets struggle with the twin demons of TBI and PTSD, and Washington remains focused on short-term profits, not long-term solutions.

Roger Charles

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