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VA Medical Malpractice and PTSD

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Ann Arbor, MIWhen John, a Gulf War veteran, came home from Iraq, he was suffering from panic attacks and wound up in the psychiatric ward of a Veteran's Administration hospital. But he still has "massive" panic attacks because he didn't get any help from the VA. "Sometimes it takes the slightest trigger and PTSD is hard to keep under control if you aren't given the tools," Jason says. "I keep going to meetings at the VA to learn how to deal with it and recognize the signs, but they don't know how to treat veterans' PTSD." John is more than frustrated with his treatment and VA medical malpractice.

John (not his real name) also suffers from fibromyalgia, but says the VA won't even address that condition. "If you have fibromyalgia and you are a Gulf War vet, you are disabled, period," John adds. "You don't have to convince a doctor, you don't have to do shit. But I have to go to a civilian hospital to see a rheumatologist."

A number of polls, including the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), have found that about 62 percent of Americans believe that Veteran's Administration hospitals and other military health facilities are not giving wounded Iraq war veterans the quality of care they deserve. According to one HSPH news release (Debating Health: Election 2008), 65 percent of Americans said that mental health care for returning vets was substandard.

Poll respondents included people from all walks of life, including people who had a family member serving in Iraq and those with no family ties to the Iraq war. The poll determined that 60 percent of the respondents believed that medical treatment for wounded Iraq war veterans in military and VA hospitals is better (10 percent) or the same (50 percent) as the type of care they would receive in what the pollsters called "other major U.S. hospitals."

Regardless, veterans deserve better treatment and PTSD is a debilitating, disabling condition. One report (McClatchy News, Washington, DC) back in 2007 said that the VA had inflated its achievements in ways to make it seem more successful than it really is, and that the VA has a habit of over-selling progress they have made to improve its health system in order to convince congress that it has enough resources to do its job. But are they caring for the nation's veterans? Countless soldiers have returned from Iraq with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological injuries and not getting the care they need, which constitutes VA medical malpractice.

According to the report, 40 VA hospitals did not have PTSD clinical teams to treat veterans. Further, the Veteran's Affairs Inspector General found that scheduling records had been tampered with to indicate that veterans were being treated in a timely manner. In one instance, a veteran was referred for an ophthalmology clinic visit that actually took 264 days of waiting to get in, and yet the VA in their reporting claimed that the waiting time was only two days.

How many veterans like Jason have waited too long to get help from PTSD?

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in US District Court, Eastern District of Michigan by the family of Randen Harvey, who was a veteran of the US Marine Corps, after he committed suicide. Harvey suffered from PTSD, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and polysubstance abuse as a direct result of two tours of duty in Iraq.

Although he was enrolled in a high-intensity outpatient treatment program at a VA medical center (VAMC at Ann Arbor), Harvey threatened to jump off the VAMC roof, and two hours later was actually found on the roof. But rather than keep Harvey at the VA facility, he was discharged from the program that evening because of drinking. The next morning he returned and again threatened to commit suicide. Again, the VA hospital released him, but not before noting that he was "poorly functioning" and facing multiple "risk factors." He died of a drug overdose three days later. Incredibly, the VA contended that Harvey's death was not a suicide because he did not leave a suicide note and his death was caused by multiple drugs, including both prescription and illegal drugs. Further, it determined that Harvey was not suicidal when he was found on the VAMC roof only hours after threatening to jump off of it.

A settlement of $218,500 was reached four days before the wrongful death trial was scheduled. Not much for a veteran's life.


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