In yet another disturbing article by the New York Times, entitled “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans try to Save One Another,” author Dave Phillips chronicles the benign neglect of the VA in helping our brave Veterans to cope with the aftermath of war. With no disrespect to Mr. Phillips, a similar article could be written every week detailing the chronic neglect of the VA for warriors at risk of suicide.
While I suppose that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over the New York Times article, but will any meaningful change come for the 300,000 to 400,000 Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. Based on the evidence, sadly one must conclude that no meaningful reform will occur within the VA.
The experience of one Veteran in dealing the VA is not uncommon from the countless other stories SFTT has heard from other Veterans,
After the eighth suicide in the battalion, in 2013, Mr. Bojorquez decided he needed professional help and made an appointment at the veterans hospital in Phoenix.
He sat down with a therapist, a young woman. After listening for a few minutes, she told him that she knew he was hurting, but that he would just have to get over the deaths of his friends. He should treat it, he recalled her saying, “like a bad breakup with a girl.”
The comment caught him like a hook. Guys he knew had been blown to pieces and burned to death. One came home with shrapnel in his face from a friend’s skull. Now they were killing themselves at an alarming rate. And the therapist wanted him to get over it like a breakup?
Mr. Bojorquez shot out of his seat and began yelling. “What are you talking about?” he said. “This isn’t something you just get over.”
He had tried getting help at the V.A. once before, right after Mr. Markel’s funeral, and had walked out when he realized the counselor had not read his file. Now he was angry that he had returned. With each visit, it appeared to him that the professionals trained to make sense of what he was feeling understood it less than he did.
He threw a chair across the room and stomped out, vowing again never to go back to the V.A.
Indeed, the article goes on to point out the following:
- – Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
- – A 2014 study of 204,000 veterans, in The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found nearly two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stopped Veterans Affairs therapy for PTSD within a year, before completing the treatment. A smaller study from the same year found about 90 percent dropped out of therapy.
- – Mr. Gerard’s experience shows, however, that the system is only as good as the V.A. treatment it is intended to connect to. The night he went to the psychiatric ward at the Indianapolis veterans hospital, he said, he waited and waited for a doctor to see him. After 24 hours, he gave up and checked himself out.
- – After surviving an ambush in Afghanistan where several Marines were injured, Mr. Gerard said, he was treated for PTSD by the Marine Corps. But when his enlistment ended in 2011, so did his therapy. He tried to continue at the V.A., but long delays meant it was two years before he got any treatment, and even then, he said, he found it ineffective.
Earlier this month, SFTT reported the heart-wrenching personal story of Maj. Ben Richards and What I should have said about Veterans with PTSD and TBI. His story is not dissimilar to the experiences encountered by the Marine Veterans at the VA and recounted in the New York Times article. How much more will the American public continue to endure the systematic abuse by the VA and the inability of Veterans to seek alternative treatment outside the VA:
- Veteran Suicide Line Gets Scrapped by the VA
- Why Not Hyperbaric Oxygen for Veterans with PTSD?
- GAO Hammers VA on Veteran Suicides
- The Tragic Cost of PTSD
- Are Drugs the Right Solution to Treat PTSD?
- Rebuilding the VA One Bureaucrat at a Time
- President Obama and VA Claims
While the New York Times, SFTT and other organizations can continue to highlight the chronic problems in the care given to Veterans, we sadly cannot influence results in a positive direction given the stranglehold that the VA has on the care of Veterans. We can only encourage the VA to “think outside the box” and allow Veterans the option of seeking alternative forms of treatment not currently prescribed by the VA.