Military Suicide Still Ignored by the VA

by | Aug 18, 2014

A recent field hearing by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held in Roswell, NM introduced a new plan to help the VA provide medical help to veterans in rural parts of the country by allowing them to get medical care in their local private hospitals rather than having to travel long distances to a VA hospital.
It’s a good program for those veterans needing physical care but it also provides for mental health care as well.
And the mental health care provided by the military and veterans administration has been a disaster – cocktails of various psychiatric drugs leading to well documented homicides, suicides, and violent outbursts of psychotic behavior in both active duty and veteran soldiers subjected to this so called “mental health help”.
Back in 2010 The Army Times published an article called “Medicating the Military” including this photo by Steven Doll showing Spc. Michael Kern with his cocktail of  drugs that he received as part of his “Warrior in Transition” plan, to deal with PTSD and other issues since his Iraq deployment.
Spc. Kern had spent a year deployed in 2008 with the 4th Infantry Division as an armor crewman, running patrols out of southwest Baghdad.
Kern went to the mental health clinic citing nervousness, sleep problems and depression. He was given Paxil, an antidepressant that carries a warning label about increased risk for suicide.
A few days later, while patrolling the streets in the gunner’s turret of a Humvee, he said he began having serious thoughts of suicide for the first time in his life.
“I had three weapons: a pistol, my rifle and a machine gun,” Kern said. “I started to think, ‘I could just do this and then it’s over.’ That’s where my brain was: ‘I can just put this gun right here and pull the trigger and I’m done. All my problems will be gone.'”
The incident frightened him enough to stop taking drugs during the rest of that  deployment. But after getting home, he was diagnosed with PTSD and put on a variety of psychotropic medications.
Such a cocktail might include an antidepressant along with an antipsychotic to prevent nightmares, plus an anti-epileptic to reduce headaches.  Taking these drugs in combination has not been tested.
And much of it is “off-label” use – prescribing medications to treat conditions for which the drugs were not formally approved by the FDA. It’s legal for doctors to do this and quite common but they take little responsibility for the results.
Dr. Grace Jackson, a former Navy psychiatrist put it this way, “It’s really a large-scale experiment. We are experimenting with changing people’s cognition and behavior.”
The extent of this military drugging is enormous.

  • Records the Defense Logistics Agency shows the DLA spent $1.1 billion on common psychiatric and pain medications from 2001 to 2009
  • Antipsychotic medications, including Seroquel and Risperdal, spiked  by more than 200 percent, and annual spending more than quadrupled, from $4 million to $16 million.
  • Use of anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives such as Valium and Ambien increased 170 percent, while spending nearly tripled, from $6 million to about $17 million.
  • Orders for antiepileptic drugs, also known as anticonvulsants increased about 70 percent, while spending more than doubled, from $16 million to $35 million.
  • Antidepressants had a 40 percent gain in orders.
  •  The military spent at least $2.7 billion on antidepressants alone in the decade after 9/11
  • Use of psychiatric medications increased about 76 percent overall since the start of the current wars

Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the Army’s highest-ranking psychiatrist, told Congress that 17% of active duty soldiers and 6% of those deployed take anti-depressants.
This might make sense if the drugs were harmless and helped win wars and end them quickly but psychiatric drugs have neither of these effects.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the newer antidepressants commonly prescribed by the military can cause or worsen suicidality, aggression and other dangerous mental states,” said Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who testified at the same Feb. 24, 2010 congressional hearing at which Brig. Sutton appeared.
Other side effects — increased irritability, aggressiveness and hostility — also could pose a risk.
“Imagine causing that in men and women who are heavily armed and under a great deal of stress,” Breggin said.

  • From 2001 to 2009, the Army’s suicide rate increased more than 150 percent, from 9 per 100,000 soldiers to 23 per 100,000.
  • From 2001 to 2009 The Marine Corps suicide rate went up about 50 percent, from 16.7 per 100,000 Marines 24 per 100,000.
  • From 2001 to 2009 orders for psychiatric drugs rose 76 percent.
  • According to Army Col. Bart Billings, a clinical psychologist and founder of the International Military & Civilian Combat Stress Conference, 23 soldiers and veterans are committing suicide each day.

“I feel flat out that psychiatrists are directly responsible for deaths in our military, for some of these suicides,” said Col. Billings, a former Army psychologist. “I think its criminal, what they are doing.”
Neurontin was one of the military’s top-selling psychiatric drugs from 2000 to 2010 and, its manufacturer, Pfizer, had over 1000 civil lawsuits filed against it by people claiming that the drug directly caused suicidal thoughts and suicides. Pfizer got away with paying about $430 million.
In 2013 The New York Times reported that more active-duty soldiers committed suicide than died in battle.
This drugging of our troops did not really begin until the second Gulf War but it still goes on today. (Before that you couldn’t be in the military let alone deployed if you were on such drugs, but now the military hands them out to soldiers.)
In April of  2014 Dr.Breggin again spoke out on this issue point out the source of the problem. He said he has interviewed soldiers who were told they could not be deployed if they did not accept psychiatric drugs!
“The combination of increasing prescribing of such drugs during and after military service has led to violence and suicide and in many cases to chronic mental disability while being treated at the VA. This becomes a disability from which they often can’t recover because of multiple psychiatric drugs.”
“We saw a sea change in the prescribing of these drugs to our troops. This cannot be accounted for by anything other than military decisions at the very top that were certainly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, which markets from the top down, then the drugs flow to millions.”
“When you have a government-run client, pharma only needs to get to a few people at the top, and that’s what we’ve seen here,” he said. Though he was unable to identify who those people might be, Breggin said the result is “a national disgrace that reflects on some of the leadership in the military, but not the military as a whole.”
Another psychiatrist in a position to know the facts agrees with Dr. Breggin.
Dr. Stephen Xenakis, was chief psychiatrist at Fort Hood in the 1980s and part of the crisis response team sent there after the mass shooting in 2009. In an April 2014 interview he told The International Business Times “The pharmaceutical companies’ influence is so strong, as are the pressures from Congress to keep things just the way they are. Congress is lobbied heavily by pharma. It makes it difficult to get any endorsement or enthusiasm for any non-pharmaceutical types of treatment.”
Fortunately the word is getting out about the government – psychiatric – pharmaceutical program that’s destroying the lives of our military personnel.
Last May The Military Times reported that a protest was carried out at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting to highlight the practice of medicating troops and veterans with psychiatric drugs.
The article reported that “More than 400 members of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights marched from Times Square to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City to oppose what they say is overmedication of military personnel with potentially harmful prescriptions.”
The President of CCHR, Bruce Wiseman, stated that “The drugging of the military has become so egregious … these drugs are associated with mania, homicide, suicide, psychosis.”
From May 14 – May 18th 2014 The International Conference on Combat Stress and the Connection between Military Suicide and Psychiatric Drugs was held in the San Diego area. It was the 20th year for this conference.
The event featured the San Diego premiere of the documentary film “The Hidden Enemy: Inside Psychiatry’s Covert Agenda” which was produced the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights International in  Los Angeles. This non-profit mental health watchdog group is looking at the growing rate of military suicides and the increase in use of drugs prescribed by psychiatrists and informing the public about the situation. The film features interviews with 80 service members and experts.
The men and women who serve in our military deserve much better health care from the armed services and the VA. Ending the psychiatric medications is the first step.



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