Tuesday, July 22, 2008

PTSD:3,000 hired in 2 years-43,000 needing help doesn't add up

You may be tired of hearing about this. Can't say I blame you. Frankly, I'm tired of posting it. I'm fed up! But there isn't a chance in hell I'm about to give up. Too many nights I lay my head down in bed and wonder how many more lives could have been saved today if they had been helped. There's a veteran I've been trying to help, among many, but he stands out the most in my mind and has captured my heart. I've "talked him down from the ledge" more times than I was even aware of until he told me. He's not part of the newer veterans getting all the attention but he's a Vietnam veteran being pushed aside and still having his claim denied. I wonder how I can offer him any hope when he is loosing the battle he should have never have had to fight. If the government were even close to where they claim they are, he would have been helped a very long time ago. The truth is, they are nowhere near where they need to be and these veterans, all generations of them, are dying for attention.

The VA said they hired 3,000 "mental health professionals" in two years but what they don't say is that many of those 3,000 are social workers without degrees as psychologist and psychiatrists. This is why they use the term they do. They tell you that 1,000 of our veterans calling the suicide hotline and were "rescued" but they also say that 43,000 of them called for help. They don't say what was done about them or if any of them ended up being treated, admitted, claim approved or if they took their own lives as part of the others who succeeded. As bad as all of this appears to be, we need to acknowledge right here and right now that we do not have all the numbers in yet. There are many still not seeking help and as a matter of fact, less than half of those needing help, seek it. Some studies put that figure at only a quarter of the veterans needing help, but I'm being kind here.

Another thing the VA needs to be aware of is that these veterans, these families, are not going to suffer in silence. They are not going to hide their stories and they are going to fight for their lives long after the risk should have ended. While the VA and Congress have talked about the need to do outreach work with the veterans and raise awareness, they have also raised the empowerment of the staggering numbers of families and veterans who have decided to take their fight all the way to Washington DC in order to live a life instead of existing in them until all hope has vanished. They know this government owes those who are sent to fight the battles this nation decides to fight and they are demanding to be damned no more! The time for excuses and trying to hide the facts has lead us to this perilous time. It's time for the VA and the DOD to open their books and let the people who can help get to work before this goes any further. Enough is enough. They need to stop sacrificing their lives long after they are out of reach from enemy forces but fight battles against the enemy within themselves.

Army Vet's Suicide Raises Questions About VA's Treatment PTSD Cases

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Published in : Nation/World

The tragic death earlier this month of a 26-year-old Navy veteran who hung himself with an electrical cord while under the care of a Spokane, Washington Veterans Administration hospital depression underscores what veterans advocacy groups say is evidence of an epidemic of suicides due failures by the VA to identify and treat war veterans afflicted with severe mental health problems.

Lucas Senescall, who suffered from severe depression, was the sixth veteran who committed suicide this year after seeking treatment at the Spokane VA, according to a report published last weekend in the Spokesman Review.

Senescall’s father said his son was “begging for help and [the VA] kicked him to the curb,” according to the July 20 report in the Spokesman Review.

On Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa, addressed the increasing number of war veterans who are committing suicide, specifically pointing out the death of Lucas Senescall, during a speech on the Senate floor.

“More than five years [after the start of the Iraq war], we should have the resources in place to treat the psychological wounds of war as well as we do the physical ones. But we don’t,” Murray said. “When someone with a history of depression, PTSD, or other psychological wounds walks into the VA and says they are suicidal, it should set off alarm bells. We can’t convince veterans or service members to get care if they think they will be met with lectures and closed doors. That is unacceptable. At the very least, we must ensure that staff at military and VA medical centers have the training to recognize and treat someone who is in real distress.

“Time and again, it has taken leaks and scandals to get the Administration to own up to major problems at the VA – from inadequate budgets to rising suicide rates. And its response to rising costs has been to underfund research and cut off services to some veterans. Service members and veterans need more than an 800 number to call,” Murray said.

Paul Sullivan, the executive director of the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, agreed.

“The facts show VA lacks consistent and complete policies and oversight on the subject of suicide, as VA leaders confirmed during the trial in the lawsuit veterans brought against VA.”

Sullivan added that the actual number of veterans who have committed suicide is unknown “because VA failed to start collecting national suicide data until after we filed our lawsuit.”

“We called this willful negligence, or “Don’t Look, Don’t Find,” Sullivan said. “If VA looked determined if there was a suicide problem, and if VA found there was a suicide problem, then VA would be forced to address the suicide problem. VCS believes that Congress should order VA to collect robust suicide data so that VA doesn’t change their mind or somehow lose the data.”

Sullivan said the Democratic-controlled Congress began to address veterans’ mental health issues in 2007 with the passage of the Joshua Omvig suicide bill as well the Dignity for Wounded Warriors bill, a new law extending free VA healthcare for up to five years for returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Omvig was a 22-year-old Army veteran who suffered from PTSD and committed suicide in 2005.

And while Sullivan, an Army veteran and former project manager at the VA, applauds Murray for raising awareness about the issue, he said veterans’ suicides have already reached “epidemic” proportions.

“There is an epidemic of suicides among our veterans, especially our younger veterans,” Sullivan said. “The evidence of this was presented by the CBS Evening News and the University of Georgia in their November 2007 report indicating veterans are twice as likely to complete a suicide than non-veterans. Even worse, and an ominous indicator of the severity of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the minds of our veterans, younger veterans, aged 18 to 24, are between three and four times more likely to complete a suicide than non-veterans of the same age. Veterans are screened for pre-existing conditions before entering the military, and their suicide rate should be lower, not higher.”

Last year, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, filed a lawsuit against the VA alleging some war veterans were turned away from VA hospitals after they sought care for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and later committed suicide. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in a person who witnesses, or is confronted with, a traumatic event. Mental health experts have described PTSD as an event of overwhelming magnitude in which a victim's nervous system is afflicted with intense fear, helplessness and horror. The victim shuts down only to re-experience the traumatic event over and over again. Studies have shown that PTSD is the most prevalent mental disorder arising from combat.

The veterans groups had asked a federal judge in San Francisco to issue a preliminary injunction force the VA to immediately treat war veterans who showed signs of or were already suffering from PTSD. In addition, they wanted a federal judge to force the VA to overhaul its internal systems that handle benefits claims and medical services.

But U.S District Court Judge Samuel Conti ruled last month that he lacked the legal authority to implement those measures. But in an 82-page ruling he said it was “clear to the court” that “the VA may not be meeting all of the needs of the nation’s veterans.”

Conti wrote that the veterans groups should get “Congress, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the adjudication system within the VA, and the Federal Circuit” to address the matter.

Sullivan said his group plans to appeal the ruling.

The VA said it has hired more than 3,000 mental healthcare professionals over the past two years to deal with the increasing number of PTSD cases, but the problems persist. In response to the federal lawsuit, the VA set up a suicide prevention hotline. The VA said it has received more than 43,000 calls, 1,000 of which were from veterans who were on the verge of suicide and were rescued.

But a VA spokesman said the agency would not provide additional data about the number of veterans being treated for mental health issues or the number of veterans who committed suicide while under VA care.
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