Friday, April 16, 2010

Treating veterans and mistreating them

Sgt. Eric Layne's death was not pretty.
A few months after being prescribed a drug cocktail with the antidepressant Paxil, the mood stabilizer Klonopin and AstraZeneca's controversial antipsychotic drug, Seroquel, the Iraq war veteran was "suffering from incontinence, severe depression [and] continuous headaches," according to his widow, Janette Layne, at FDA hearings for new Seroquel approvals last year.
Soon he had tremors. " … [H]is breathing was labored [and] he had developed sleep apnea," said Janette Layne, who served in the National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom along with her husband. On the last day of his life, she testified, Eric stayed in the bathroom nearly all night battling acute urinary retention. He died while his family slept.
Sgt. Layne had just returned from a seven-week inpatient program at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati where he was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A video shot during that time, played by his wife at the FDA hearings, shows a dangerously sedated figure barely able to talk.
Sgt. Layne was not the first healthy veteran to die after being prescribed medical cocktails, including Seroquel, for PTSD.
In the last two years, Pfc. Derek Johnson, 22, of Hurricane, West Virginia; Cpl. Andrew White, 23, of Cross Lanes, West Virginia; Cpl. Chad Oligschlaeger, 21, of Roundrock, Texas; Cpl. Nicholas Endicott, 24, of Pecks Mill, West Virginia; and Spc. Ken Jacobs, 21, of Walworth, New York have all died suddenly while taking Seroquel cocktails.

The above is from Martha Rosenberg's "Are Veterans Being Given Deadly Cocktails to Treat PTSD?"(Dissident Voice). A lot of people make a lot of money off PTSD. It's really amazing to watch some of the 'new' 'treatments' emerge. For example, a quack was promoted by several regional newspapers this week for his 'new' treatment: Shock therapy. An illness garners headlines and 'new' treatments come rushing up. And all it takes it a diploma -- from a real school or a diploma mill -- and a number in the press will run with it. As a general rule, 'treatments' hailed as miracle workers only to be exposed as anything but as they are repeatedly utilized should not resurface because some quack needs some attention. Certainly, the ship sailed on shock therapy long, long ago. What's next in the 'new' developments? "Lobotomy cures PTSD!"?

At present, it appears -- despite the quack's claim this week (which four regional papers ran with) -- that PTSD is not something that will be "cured" but something that will be treated. New developments may emerge (not likely when the government keeps doing 'research' on whether or not there's a problem and finding the 'answer' is "Further study is needed") and a cure may be discovered. But for most suffering, PTSD is something that they will be managing because it won't go away. (As with any disease, for some the symptoms will just vanish for reasons unknown.)

A rule of thumb should be that 'treatments' which didn't work in the past for traumas aren't going to work today so just because you're a quack looking to make a quick buck doesn't mean the press should rush to 'report' on your 'new' 'discovery.' As a rule of thumb, over medicating those suffering from grief or suicidal ideations has not resulted in anything resembling or adjacent to "healthy" so the thought that you can over-medicate away PTSD should have been ruled out long, long ago.

(In many cases, over-medication isn't about health, it's about shutting up the patient and making your own life a little easier.)

Max Jacobson, were he treating people today as he did JFK, Eddie Fisher and countless others, would lose his license. (His 'vitamin shots' were laced with amphetamines.) And that shouldn't have been an issue that surprised the medical community. By the same token, those over-medicating patients today should result in peer outcry and professional reprimand. We know the dangers of over-medication and we knew them before PTSD began garnering press attention in the last few years.

Meanwhile Heather Crawford (KATV) reports on Sabrina Threet's efforst to have the ruling in her son's death changed. Iraq War veteran Bradley Ryan Hill supposedly chocked himself to death via an extension cord. Sabrina Threet does not believe her son took his own life due to a number of factors which appear to indicate foul play. Yesterday Judge Jay Moody of the Pulaski County Circuit refused to change the death certificate. Sabrina Threet explains to KATV, "Your son doesn't just die one night; go out and have a good time and all of a sudden he winds up dead and his car is stolen, his money is stolen and no explanation. 'Oh, he killed himself.' No. I don't buy it and I never will."

Jason Grott and Tim Jones (Chicago Tribune via Cleveland Plains Dealer) continue their examination of the realites facing the VA and note that costs are rising for a number of reasons including:

--By the end of 2009, more than 3 million veterans were receiving compensation, a 24 percent increase since 2003. The total costs, meanwhile, grew from $19.5 billion to more than $34 billion.

--The psychological toll of war now accounts for more than a third of the $24 billion spent last year compensating veterans from the Vietnam, Persian Gulf and "global war on terror" eras, more than any other category. Yet studies have shown that the current system is ill-equipped to handle claims related to post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions, adding to delays and forcing veterans into the even lengthier appeals process.

--The unpredictability of war has led to devastating illnesses that cost U.S. taxpayers billions every year. By the end of last year, more than 300,000 Vietnam-era veterans were receiving nearly $2 billion in disability payments for illnesses associated with Agent Orange and other dioxin-laden herbicides used to defoliate jungles and destroy enemy crops during the war. Those costs are expected to increase by billions of dollars as the VA expands the list of illnesses associated with the chemicals.

And the Chippewa Falls Herald reports that Sunday afternoon (two p.m. -- not open to the public), members of the Wisconsing National Guard's 724th Engineering Battalion deploying to Iraq will have a send-off ceremony.

The following community sites updated last night:

We were going to highlight something and, as I read over it, I thought, "Hmm. Might be a truest in this. I'll carry it over to Third as a nominee." But then I found the homophobia. We're not highlighting it. I understand why a visitor e-mailed it. But we don't link to anything that expresses homophobia. We're not the faux left, we're the real left. Rachel Maddow (who is called out in the piece -- deservedly so) and other trash that plays left may use homophobia, we don't. And it's really sad that someone had to destroy what was a good column by resorting to it. [For those late to the party, Tea Party activists are Tea Party activists. They are not a term related to same-sex sex. But using such a term to describe them does reveal the author/speaker's own homophobia.]

The e-mail address for this site is

thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends