August 6, 2012: By the Numbers

August 6, 2012: By the Numbers


The number of OIF/OEF veterans "seen for potential PTSD" at VA facilities through March 31, 2011, according to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) at a U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing July 14. Senator Murray is chairman of that committee. The title of the hearing? VA Mental Health Care: Closing the Gaps.

In her introduction, Senator Murray noted:


Last week, the President reversed a longstanding policy and started writing condolence letters to the family members of servicemembers who commit suicide in combat zones. This decision is one more acknowledgment of the very serious psychological wounds that have been created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an effort to reduce the stigma around the invisible wounds of war. But clearly much more needs to be done.


Testifying at the hearing were: Williams, Daniel, Veterans Council Representative for National Alliance on Mental Illness, Alabama; Sawyer, Andrea, Caregiver and Spouse of U.S. Army Sergeant Sawyer 11 Prepared statement; Underriner, David Thomas, Chief Executive, Providence Health & Service--Oregon Region; Daigh, John D., Jr., M.D., Assistant Inspector General for Health Care, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; accompanied by Michael Shepherd, M.D., Senior Physician; Schoenhard, William, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; accompanied by George Arana, M.D., Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations; Antonette Zeiss, Ph.D., Acting Deputy Chief Consultant for Mental Health; and Mary Schohn, Ph.D., Acting Director, Mental Health Operations.

Some of these folks recounted heart-breaking stories of traumatized veterans unable to get timely mental health help from the VA. For example, the testimony of Andrea Sawyer, spouse and caregiver of a retired army sergeant:

Loyd was a civilian funeral director and embalmer before joining the Army Mortuary Affairs team. As a mortuary affairs soldier, Loyd did a tour at Dover Port Mortuary where all deceased servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan re-enter the United States. Loyd worked in the Army uniform shop (where paperwork is processed and final uniforms prepared for deceased servicemembers) and embalmed on the days he was not in the uniform shop. Loyd then served a tour in Iraq, first in Talil and then the Balaad mortuaries where he processed countless deceased civilians and servicemembers. While there, he began exhibiting signs of mental distress including anger, hypervigilance, and insomnia.
Upon his return home, I tried for eleven months to get him help. We encountered delay in getting that help because the base had only one psychiatrist; but the help he ultimately got was ineffective. Finally I found myself in a room with an Army psychiatrist and my husband, and watched Loyd pull a knife out of his pocket and describe his plan of slitting his throat. He was clearly delusional and in great psychiatric distress, and shortly before Christmas in 2007, he was admitted to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center (PNMC). He had multiple episodes of intensive treatment while in service: an initial crisis hospitalization of five weeks (three exclusively inpatient and two intensive outpatient), a separate one week crisis hospitalization for homicidal ideations, eight months in an Army Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), and then appointments three days a week at PNMC two hours away from our home Army base of Fort Lee. Loyd then underwent a medical and physical evaluation (MEB/PEB) process that resulted in a 70% permanent Department of Defense (DOD) retirement from active duty for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a secondary diagnosis of major depressive disorder. The accompanying medical paperwork summed up his condition: ``The degree of industrial and military impairment is severe. The degree of civilian performance impairment is severe at present, though over time--likely measured in years -- (emphasis added)--with intensive psychotherapy augmented by pharmacotherapy to control his anxiety and depressive symptoms--his prognosis MAY improve.''