Discussions of Suicide: No Second Guessing

Since we’ve been seeing a few distressed comments here and on our Facebook and Twitter pages lately, I want to discuss the topic of suicide threats—both vague and explicit. What I want to do is to let you know a couple of things about this.

First, we don’t take any of these for granted and we don’t assume anyone is joking. We’re not oblivious to what’s going on in the lives of Veterans, so we take each of these comments seriously. I’ve seen enough in the last few years to know the cost of not intervening. We immediately notify VA’s mental health professionals whenever we see someone expressing hopelessness or a reference to harming themselves. Once notified, VA’s mental health folks assess the comments and determine whether or not reaching out is necessary. Often, it is.

Second, we also want you to know that it’s okay to say something—to us or to your fellow Veteran—if you catch a comment before we do. We monitor throughout the day, but that doesn’t mean we see everything immediately. So if you see someone hurting, please offer encouragement and let us know. Our email address is newmedia@va.gov

If you saw one of your military buddies in trouble, you’d offer help. And that’s we should be—and are— doing here. If you have any thoughts or advice on this, we’d be interested to hear it in the comments section.

Visit VA’s Mental Health home page for more information and links to vital resources. And if you or someone you know is in need of immediate assistance, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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57 Comments to “Discussions of Suicide: No Second Guessing”

  1. Jason Shattuck says:

    It’s helped me to see people do care.

    On a VA FB page, I said no one cares about me, I dont know how many people responded to that, it was very encouraging.

    • Alex Horton says:

      That’s great to hear Jason, especially when everyone these days seems to be so cynical.

    • Brenda Hayes says:

      Jason,

      It is difficult at times not to get down; especially if you are dealing with the double eyed monster of Depression/PTSD.

      There are supposed to be Recovery Groups forming at the VAMC’s. It is a peer process; not therapy, as I understand it.

      An important part of the Peer Recovery Program is the “WRAP”contract that you complete either by yourself or help with a mentor. The main piece of the WRAP contract is having a (your) plan in black and white–especially what steps you will take when the Disorder DIPS into the part of Hopelessness.

      If you are not in group within the VA; find one in your community. If your VAMC does not have a Recovery Coordinator or that Recovery Coordinator is not doing their job (they are supposed to have a 3 year plan in place); come back to this group and post because the VA needs people in the field to tell them what is and what is not working well!

      My understanding is that the DVA did not make Recovery Coordinator positions mandatory and/or its programs mandatory at all VAMC’s. It is a huge paradigm shift to peer groups–Recovery is possible; maybe not COMPLETE recovery, but enough to have some quality of life; but you have to have a plan…and then be committed to and work that plan daily.

      Sad to say, some VAMC’s have “chosen” not to have Recovery Coordinators and again, not all RCs are doing what they are supposed to be doing and that includes doing WRAP groups. They don’t have them at the Richmond, VA McGuire VAMC and there are a few outside community resources. I am encouraging my Veteran to do the WRAP program as I do think it will help him.

      There also is a “new” 12 step program called Dual Recovery. I’ve found, more often than not, a lot of Vets “self-medicate” before they get treatment and start Rx meds. And, even with prescription meds; they don’t always work and they have side effects which often can be worse than just learning to deal with the Depression/PTSD.

      You have to learn how your mind and body speaks to you and work with your Drs and/or counselor. You have to be in charge; its your life and your decisions.

      Again, Dual Recovery offers a a good structure and good fellowship which Veterans not always will do because of Depression/PTSD. I also can’t say enough about reaching out and getting several sponsors. Don’t have to keep them forever; and try a temmporary one. You should be able to read online what is a sponsor and what makes a good sponsor.

      Remember; if you have to….back it down from days, to minutes. One step at a time. You can’t be cured from Depression/PTSD; but you can learn to live a better life with a plan and then working your plan daily.

      Walk the walk….the hard part is behind you.

      Life is too short; you have to be willing to accept that the journey is filled with abudant learnings– some happy, some painful;take the time to find pieces of Joy and Happiness along the pathway.

      You owe it to yourself.

      Hugs,

      BH
      Vetwife Advocate

  2. Mike Bailey says:

    It is nice to see that some action will be taken to reach out and check on people that are reaching out by their despair, to many times I have witnessed people that were totally depressed be ignored by VA employees and brushed aside as if they were a bother or a nuisance.

    Rather than treat them with any respect or dignity to many people can’t take the time to even notice that a person may be in distress and just needs someone to speak with before they give up all hope, I have seen to many walk out the door of the VA wrose off than they were before they went in seeking help.

    To many are still afraid to use the term PTSD or even mental health due to the stigma attached to it, if it is put in their records any chance at a career in law enforcement is gone and some think that even a job that requires a security clearance will be lost to them, if they admit they have “issues” it took me almost 30 years to “seek help” I blamed everyone else for my problems, ex wives, kids, supervisors, customers etc everyone but me. I imagine that even Senator McCain would not admit to having any mental health issues publicly, and I have seen him go off on MIA spouses etc.

    Yes sometimes they have to be reached out to, preferably by someone who knows how to handle the subject.

    • Alex Horton says:

      That’s true Mike, the stigma associated with PTSD still lingers, especially when it’s carried from active duty, where I think it has to be accepted once and for all before an era of open dialogue and discussion happens in the Veteran community. Unfortunately we’re not there yet, but from what I hear from older Vets here and other places, it’s changing for the better. I look forward to the day when invisible wounds are handled with as much care and understanding as physical ailments.

    • Loren L. Morse says:

      I have been fighting PTSD/Head Trauma for over 35 yrs. I have been Mad even Angry at The VA for their in-action on Suicide and Depression with PTSD. My Doctors and coucellors say they can only do so much and mostly its giving me drugs. It used to be years ago The VA Hospitals had Wards that concentrated on these areas and the programs were good and helpfull. It seems now, even though there is more awareness of the conditions there is less treatment. So i guess i remain Angry and Depressed, Suicidal.

      Loren

    • Kai W says:

      The VA seems to have the persona of “caring” and “helping” however I have a much different experience; when expressing minor depression about waiting for a transfer to a new duty station and an over-reaction caused my subsequent arrest and detainment by VA Psych Ward. I was attacked in the Palo Alto VA by a real psychotic patient and the VA was unable to actually protect me and my personal safety. When I addressed this with the health care people to include the doctors I was not taken seriously even after they had to subdue my attacker with a steel needle in the middle of the night. I have been throughly un-impressed from intake to release; I have serious doubts that the doctors and nurses employed by the VA could make it in the private sector moreover I believe they would be sued for maulpratice due to their clinical inabilities and non-existant bedside manner. I will be lodging complaints against the VA and their gross inability to properly assess mental condition and protect their patients from other patients. The frightening events that I experienced were unacceptable; nor were the conditions in which vetrans are being held.

  3. Jim, SF Retired says:

    The V.A.’s lack of medical and disability compensation exacerbates mental health problems. It’s like they say: “We love you. Take these pills and be well.” They never speak to the hardships of other disabilities and the soldiers inability to work a normal job.

    The V.A. compensation system needs to quit treating us like a bunch of moochers. There is nothing worse than the feeling of betrayal to most of us soldiers.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Not sure what you mean about medical compensation Jim, and I’ll tell you from experience. On Wednesday I went in for my general checkup at the DC Medical Center and was told about a number of options for mental health care if I ever needed it, like Vet Centers for example. My doctor even drew me a map.

      I failed high school biology, but it would seem to me that helping someone heal from mental health issues is not the same as physical impairments, and since it’s a relatively new field of medicine, sometimes therapy and medication are about the only options. There are advancements in immersion and virtual therapy that might help as well. Medication is a management tool and not a cure, and I’m willing to bet some doctors forget that, unfortunately.

      As for the benefits side of the house, VA has made it a bit easier to file a claim for PTSD last year, which was a big improvement over the burden of proof system.

      • I agree with Jim, The VA compensates according to your disability but even at the 100% rate it is only enough to make it through a month at a time. Its just me and my wife now and i get paid at the 100% rate and unfortunately i am unemployable so there is no way to make more money to live on. After Rent, food and other basic necessaties the moneyt is gone. Its really hard, extras include–Doctors Appointments, Salem, Ore and Portland, Oregon etc; and i don’t drive, so i have to depend on others, it sucks. Sometimes you just get tired of it all and thats when it starts to get BAD. Myself, i have wanted to commit suicide so many times and maybe its just that i don’t have the courage to do it or maybe its just not the right time. I made a comment the other day about suicide and depression and traumatic brain damage and everyone was calling me and asking Whats going on? These are just comments on what other veterans are feeling too, this does not mean i am going to do it, it means that others feel the way i do.

        Loren

    • Niko says:

      Jim…..

      The look on my primary care doctor was worth a million dollars when I told him I wasn’t taking any of his meds and hadn’t in months. He looked at the computer and saw my bllod pressure was 120 over 70….. perfect…..WHY TAKE BLOOD PRESSURE MEDS ??? Then he looked at my cholesterol numbers that were 145 WHY PUT THAT CHEMICAL CRAP in my body. BUT… the best was when he was going to refill the pain meds OXYCODONE 5Mg 4 X Daily….. told him I don’t want them either. I had already weined myself off and went through the withdrawals weeks ago. He looked in amazement. “Ya mean ya don’t want them anymore? ”
      The VA’s Motto must be ” Keep’em HIGH…. Keek’em HAPPY….. Keep’em QUIET”

  4. Richard says:

    Suicide Attempt Survivor, on May 19, 2009 my life changed…”My Story”

    September was Army Suicide Prevention Month, I thought I would share my story hoping it will help another brother or sister in arms!

    Suicide Attempt Survivor, on May 19, 2009 my life changed…

    I believe that we must push education, education, education! We must not make our soldier feel afraid to come forward. One thing I learned when I was at my lowest level was that I was at a “HOPELESSNESS” feeling stage in my life. Once a person who is at this level in their life, will probably act on their thoughts, which means they are passed the thinking stage. They are at the planning stage, which we must find a way to inform our soldiers and veterans there is always another way out.

    We must learn to educate our Senior Leaders all the way down!!! Because once a person feels hopelessness they do not see any other way, but death. If we can get them to try and think that no matter how they are feeling at the planning stage there is always another way out. I believe we can win this battle. I know for a fact most soldiers are scared to ask for help.

    The sad thing is that the new data show there is an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the (VA) Veterans Affairs Department. Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don’t succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months. The numbers, which come at a time when VA is strengthening its suicide prevention programs, show about 18 veteran suicides a day, about five by veterans who are receiving VA Mental Care.

    On May 19, 2009, I pulled my car in to a hotel parking lot; put the sun shades in my widow, and black trash bags on my side car windows. I took the keys out and put them under my car seat. I selected this place due to no one would be able to find me. It was 2130 on May 19, 2009. I started taking my prescribed medication which I got from the VA doctors. I took over 90 pills of morphine. I knew what I was doing, and I knew no one would be able to get me to change my thinking at that time. That was the way I thought back then, but today is a different story. I am a combat veteran of 24 years and a very high senior ranking NCO. At that time in my life I was just tire of my nightmares, and the pain I was living with every day. At one time in my life I had it all, but this didn’t matter to me, it still did not take away these thoughts. I had pushed away my family, my kids who loved me more than anything. I told lie after lie and made up stuff so I would not have to tell the truth about the real, Richard.

    The next morning around 0600 hrs someone tried to back out and couldn’t because my car was blocking them in by only inches. All I know is that there was no car there when I pulled in the night before. The driver of this car looked in my back window and saw that I was not moving and tried to wake me up. I would not wake-up, so he called 911. All of this information I received from the police report and hospital records. I died three times in the hospital. The only reason I am alive today…is by the grace of GOD, the man who was blocked in, and all of my doctors. There is no way I should had lived through that night or the next day. My doctors told me it was a miracle that I lived. And he had me promise him something before I left the hospital, and I asked him what? He said find your purpose in life and live it.

    Today, I am a new man, because of GOD, the Dallas VA Hospital, Chaplain Chad Maxey, Dr. Stacy Scannel, Dr. Gowen, and my fellow veterans. family and friends. I was in the mental hospital at the VA for almost 60 days, which is way past the normal stay of five to seven days. I met a man called Chaplain Maxey, Chad who changed my life during my stay there. He alone with the staff got me to change the way I was thinking. I have always hated to read books, but I read, read, and read everything I could get my hands on about Suicide. You can say I became an expert on the subject of suicide. All I know at that time was I could not understand why I wanted to die, no one could give me an answer, not even the doctors.

    I am not here to promote any books, but these two books changed my life, Battlefield of the Mind Book – Joyce Meyer, and Suicide, The Forever Decision By Dr. Paul G. Quinnett. I learned so much from both of these books, and everyone should read them.

    The one thing I was really surprise about during my growing stage is that the VA Mental Department does not have a full-time Chaplain slot for that department. This does not make any sense at all. Out of every department in the VA system; you would think that the Mental Health Department would have a full time slot for a Chaplain. Who needs spiritual counseling more than anyone… no one other than a mental patient?

    If my story can help any veteran or soldier out there who is thinking about suicide, please take it from me. There is always another way out! I promise you from the bottom of my heart. If you will let anyone know you are having these thought, you will get better. I also believe that you must have a purpose in life… to want to live. Once you find this purpose… live it! I believe that you must believe in a higher power. You cannot make beat these thoughts on your own.

    The VA’s national suicide prevention coordinator credits the hot line with rescuing 7,000 veterans who were in the act of suicide — in addition to referrals, counseling and other help. That leads VA officials to believe that about 250 lives have been saved each year as a result of VA treatment.

    A suicide attempt by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans remains a key area of concern. In fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 30, there were 1,621 suicide attempts by men and 247 by women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, with 94 men and four women dying.

    Suicide is the 13th leading cause of death world-wide and ranks 3rd in many countries among 10-24 year olds. An estimated 815,000 people commit suicide each year around the world representing one death every 40 seconds. Some who attempt suicide are fortunate enough to receive a second chance at life.

    “The majority of people who attempt to harm themselves don’t want to end their life; they just want a better life. If we’re able to support both groups with more appropriate strategies, we may be able to lessen some of their pain.”

    The VA’s suicide hot line has been receiving about 10,000 calls a month from current and former service members. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Service members and veterans should push 1 for veterans’ services.

    Today I tell my story to anyone who will listen. On July 16, 2010 I testified in front of Senator Wendy Davis and her staff about military and veteran suicide issues. On August 17, 2010 I testified in front of the Tarrant County Bar Association in Fort Worth, Texas about military legal issues, and suicide rate.

    “We must double down on our commitment to eliminate, not just to minimize, but to eliminate stigma, that toxic, deadly hazard that all too often leads to needless suffering and loss,” said Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton at this week’s military suicide conference.

    Please, if you are having any of these thoughts or know someone who is, please call 1-800-273-8255, or call 911. You can also talk to you pastor or a friend. Just reach out and someone will come, I promise.

    Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day to help in an immediate crisis.

    Veterans Can Chat Online with Suicide Prevention Staff
    Chat
    http://www1.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20090914a.asp

    Website
    http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/

    or
    http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Default.aspx

    http://www.myarmyonesource.com/Events/ArmySuicidePreventionMonth/2010/default.aspx

    Effective suicide prevention requires everyone to be aware of the risk factors for suicide and know how to respond. If a Soldier seems suicidal, the time to take action is now. Talk to the Soldier before it is too late. Be direct and talk openly. Listen. Allow them to express their feelings. Battle buddies are the front line in surveillance and detection of high-risk behavior. Be a buddy, learn the warning signs of suicide and find out how to help someone threatening suicide.

    You may contact me at veteranscourts@aol.com

    I have found my purpose! I love life, and I want to LIVE, but not just live… I want to give back to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms.

    Just my two cents… Thank you for taking the time read my story.

    GOD Bless,

    Richard U.S. Army
    Disable Combat Veteran (Retired 24 years)
    Veterans Courts Nationwide Advocate

    Added on 9/25/2010 0330

    I know it must be a shock to read my story but Combat PTSD, and all the pain of war really got to me on May 19, 2009. I still have survivor’s guilt. Today, I am a new man thanks to GOD, and my fellow veterans who I call my family.

    Chaplain Maxey took me under his arms and walked me back into GOD’s arms. This was something I had pushed to the side due to my mental illness all these years. I hid it really well for years, not even letting my family know my true feelings inside. How could someone like me a very high ranking NCO who led many troops into battle for so many years? A soldier who had worked with Generals whose military career was untouchable. I felt I owe it to my family and my brother to keep fighting in our army. I always thought I was better than my mental issues. It was my pride that kept me thinking this way.

    I probably should have gotten help years ago, but I loved the military more than my own life. I did not want to let my soldier’s down. I was always good at taking care of other soldiers, damn good at it, but one day I had a soldier ask me, who takes care of you? It was like hitting a brick wall. I had never thought of it that way. I was so busy taking care of soldiers… I had left myself out, and it all hit me hard on May 19, 2009.

    I started getting help in October 2007, but even after getting help I still was not 100% honest with my doctors, scared I would be kicked out of the military. I had seen it done 100 times before and knew better to tell the truth. I really believe if I would had been closer to GOD at that time in my life I would had asked for help. But I had pushed him out of my life years before May 2009. It was not until May 2009 when my new mental health doctor who broke me, and broke me down really hard, that I realized that I was missing GOD in my life.

    My doctor just could not figure me out. He just could not get me to talk. I will never forget him saying you had it all… what about your spirituality, do you believe in GOD? Where is GOD at in your life at this point in time? WOW! Did it ever hit me! At that time the tough and rough Rick broke like a stick, and I could feel GOD waiting for me to answer this question.

    After all these years I had pushed him away, not thinking he still really cared about me. I will never forget the day I asked GOD to come back into my life…he said, Rick I have never left you. I was just waiting for you to ask me for help. I had seen so much loss in my life, in which I didn’t really have a feeling inside of me. Yes, war can change a person, but it is up to you if you want it to run your life forever. All I cared about was the army and my soldiers. I was good at taking care of others I forgot the most important person, “ME”.

    As Combat Veterans with mental issues like Combat PTSD, you need a strong support GROUP, you need to be honest with your family, kids, friends, and fellow veterans. Telling just one lie will make you tell another one. DO NOT BE SCARED to be honest. Please ask for help if you are having these thoughts.

    PLEASE… If you are thinking about SUICIDE please ask for HELP!

    Please share my story…hoping it can help someone.

  5. Dano says:

    Oh, absolutely it has changed. For years, Vietnam veterans wouldn’t file for anything based on the VA denials of their friends’ cases. It took me 42 years to take my first step into a VA facility, and the care is world class. It’s probably been that way for some time now, but the constant carping about it doesn’t help to encourage those vets returning from the western Asia theater to seek the help that they need. All of us need to more proactive in getting the word out that the VA is not some huge bogeyman designed to deny what every veteran is legally and rightfully entitled to, but rather a very very helpful and efficient partner in insuring the best interests of Veterans are seen to in a very professional manner. I don’t think anyone could find better care anywhere. As for the VAROs, they are under a claims deluge with the Nehmer decision cases and the new presumptives Agent Orange claims. I’m as impatient as the next person, but we all have to realize the burden that our Regional Offices are under and exercise reasonable equanimity. Semper Fi – C 1/4 RVN ’67′-68 Grunt

    • Tammy Duckworth says:

      Dano

      I’m glad that you are onboard with getting the word out. My generation of Veterans owe the Vietnam Vets a tremendous debt. Even though you guys were treated so poorly, the Vietnam Vets were among the first and loudest to welcome me hone and to teach this country to love her warriors. It was Vietnam Vets first and foremost who looked out for me and my wounded buddies when we got back. I’m not a Marine, but as a broken down chopper pilot, I love my grunts. Hooah to you and all our Vietnam Vets. Thank you and Welcome Home yourself.

  6. Doug Bent says:

    The truth is all of us with ptsd have a hard time every day because the world we knew when we went to war will never be there for us now that we are home. The VA cant help fix that we have just sean the world for what it is. As far as some one wanting to take there own life,Let them. Maybe there just sick of all the bs.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Doug, you’re completely irresponsible to say something like that. Suicide doesn’t just affect the person who ends their life, but their family and community too. I cannot believe your apathy to fellow Vets.

      I’ve been home about three years now, and every day is a struggle in some way. But giving in wouldn’t have solved anything, and it would have destroyed my family. Are you prepared to advocate for that? Get a grip.

      • Doug Bent says:

        You need to get a grip, Ive had 3 friend take there own life sence we came home from Iraq. The world stll goes on,As far as how i feel about my fellow vets. There are just two kinds of vets, the ones that talk shit behind the wire and aare not worth the space they take up, so if that bunch wants to end there life go for it. The rest are the ones who do what needs to be done and think of them selfs later, So if that bunch has had anofe of the rest of this world who are you to stop them or try to,ps; If there from the 2nd grop you will fale. As for the community are you for real? I love how they all say what a good job we have done and what we are fighting for, its all talk, you dont see them go, I was 17 months on stop loss,and the day we shiped there were a shit load of so called vets in my unit that couldent go, headaches, family, bullshit. So as for the ones that did what this country ask. Yes I will advocate for them, There just sick of it, and before you tell me they need help, There the same ones that our communitys WERE so proud of not long a go and now could care less. Your trying to help the wrong grop, and you will fale.

        • Alex Horton says:

          That’s a false choice Doug. There is no one group to help over the other. It’s not like we can prevent only a certain number of suicides, and of course there will always be a number that are unreachable. But these programs are designed for the at-risk, those that still can be reached before they get to the point of no return. But to say that we should let anyone linger is ridiculous.

          I understand the gap between civilians and Vets. I feel it all the time (and will be discussing it next week). But everyone has a family, and every Vet has his or her buddies that would be less with them gone. Suicide is not just a solution to a temporary problem, but the beginning of a lifetime of grief for many people.

        • Alex Horton says:

          Also, Doug, I unapproved your comment encouraging others to commit suicide. We won’t have that here.

  7. I am an Army Infantry Combat Veteran(Desert Storm). I served with honor for over 15-years. After dealing with Lincoln R.O. since 2004, I ran into all sort of road blocks with being awarded service connected disability for Depression, PTSD, Alcoholism and Homelessness. I was blessed to meet a County V.S.O. that took interest in my case and was very helpful. I recently moved to Colorado Springs and I have been in contact with V.A. Representative in Senator Udall’s Office. Being in Colorado Springs and meeting mental health providers and having someone in the senator’s office that is truly understanding has been a blessing and relief for me.
    I would also like to put the National Spotlight on an issue that is very troubling for me. We have Combat Veterans and Others that are being Deported after serving our nation on the foreign battle fields, this is not treating our veterans with honor or dignity. Please, Help!

  8. Chris says:

    I would like to hear some suggestions and ideas of what to say to someone that is feeling suicidal.

    And does anyone have any thoughts on feeling suicidal vs thinking it.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Good suggestion Chris, I’ll try to get some professionals to post about how to handle that kind of situation.

    • Joe Average says:

      I have a suggestion to reduce suicide in Veterans: Pay them their benefits due in a timely manner! The desperation of being homeless, and/or unable to provide for one’s family does nothing to help. Men often get their sense of “self worth” through their job, so if they have no income, no job, their self worth is probably about zero. It took me 8 years to get my benefits. With a million man claims backlog, and growing, any government program designed to end homeless Veterans is highly unlikely to succeed.

      • Alex Horton says:

        While I do recognize the importance of disability benefits to help pay the bills, I think it cheapens the issue of suicide and mental health to suggest the backlog is a big (or the biggest) reason people take their lives. They’re doing so because of post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, and though finances might exacerbate the problem, it doesn’t do anyone good to say that’s all secondary to people not getting a claim processed. The physical and mental injuries Vets have sustained are at the core of this issue, and the care we receive as a result. That is and should be the focus.

  9. Richard says:

    There are several stages to someone being suicidal. It’s the homelessness stage where the person feels there is no way out but death. This is the stage when we must take action.

    1)How long have you been feeling this way?

    2)May I ask you why do you think you feel this way?

    3)What can “WE” do to help you change your thinking process?

    4)Have you ever had these thoughts before today, if so, what action did you take?

    Persistence and patience may be needed to seek, engage and continue with as many options as possible. In any referral situation, let the person know you care and want to maintain contact.

    HOOAH,

    Richard

  10. Justin says:

    Alex,
    What are mental health options for people in more rural areas? I’e been home for almost a year and every time I hear a siren I dive for cover. The closet VA hospital is 70 miles, the nearest Vet Ceter is 90 miles. I feel like it’s important to see somebody, but I’m a full time student. I don’t have the time or funds to make a trip like that. Not to mention the last time I requested to talk to someone after my first tour, it was 3 months before I got in.

  11. Rebecca Mimnall says:

    It takes a lot of courage to ask for help, and I hope the culture at VA continues to improve towards making it ever easier for Vets to do so.

    It also takes a lot of courage to stand up to inappropriate comments. Alex, I very much appreciate your strong response to Doug, and your ongoing willingness to engage in respectful dialogue with individuals on this blog.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Thanks Rebecca, I appreciate the kind words. We strive to be engaging and respectful on here, so I’m happy to hear our efforts are being noticed.

      • Derek Davey says:

        OK, I’m really confused Alex. You advocate for assistance to those who are crying out for help. Yet you tell Dan to “get a grip” and chastize him for suicide comments and pat yourself on the back for being “engaging and respectful”. Did you actually read what Doug wrote? Did you not decifer this veteran’s pain of returning home after a long combat tour and witnessing the inequities that he sees? Why don’t you find Doug and get him the help he needs–like you say: “No second guessing” instead of yelling at him for his frustrations?
        Iam,
        Derek M. Davey
        Accredited Service Officer since 1987
        Marine veteran and father of a Marine KIA, Iraq

        • Alex Horton says:

          Derek, maybe I’m obtuse, but I didn’t see anything in Doug’s comments that revealed any cries for help, and in fact, he was encouraging people to commit suicide. That’s unacceptable, and I appreciate his service, but that doesn’t give him a free pass to endanger other people.

          Having a hard time after coming home is completely different than deciding suicide is the only solution. We all have a tough time dealing with the residuals of war–that much hasn’t changed for thousands of years. We have a very low threshold to what we send up to the mental health pros (hence the title of the post), but I don’t think it was warranted in this case.

  12. dan noyes says:

    Veteran’s suicide reveals problems in VA system
    Tuesday, February 08, 2011

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/iteam&id=7947431

    • Alex Horton says:

      Dan, thanks for bringing that to our attention. That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever watched, and I’m absolutely horrified that it happened to a fellow Vet. Totally unacceptable. The system isn’t perfect, but it would seem it failed this man.

      • Francis Bill says:

        Way beyond time to fix the VA system. Investigation needs to be done in all VA medical centers. Whether mental on medical there are some big problems. Anyone that has tried to coplain about the care they recive soon learn the VA just doesn’t care.

        • Brenda Hayes says:

          My mantra has been the same..the Veterans (FM’s/Caregivers) need an Omsbudman who reports directly to Director Shinsecki.

          I do love the General; but I do I take issue with what the Director just stated recently that an issue was an “isolated” situation (with the VAMCs).

          It appears there is a huge disconnect between DC management of the VA and the field VAMCs administrators. It seems there is no oversight nor any accountability. The buck stops with General Shinsecki and he needs to HEAR that there is something wrong!!

          Who is the Under Secretary that is over the VAMCs? Why have they not posted here. I do believe they know that they also would be asked and expected to answer to many” un-isolated” situations.

          Again, what are the bill of rights of Veterans and their family members. They are posted; but are they adhered to. And if they are not, where can the Veteran (family members) go for accountability. To IRIS; that needs a little shoring up as well. I’m still waiting for specific answers to my latest question and what’s with the over 5 days return time?

          I’ve been asking these questions regarding the oversight of the VAMCs for a few months now and still have not received any answers or any posts regarding such.

          You canNOT expect Veterans (FM’s) to believe that the VA wants to change for the benefit of the V/FM’s; if there is no response on how things will be accountable at the VAMC level as well.

          PROBLEM: There is no accountability at the VAMCs and there is no one to report these problems with the VAMCs.

          SOLUTION (MANTRA): There needs to be an OMSBUDMAN at a higher level at the VA to report to the Director directly so he ABSOLUTELY knows what is and what is not happening at his VAMCs.

          The IG investigations seems a little like having the old fox in the henhouse.

          Tell the General….no one is showing up on this blog who responsibility is the VAMC’s. I just received a report that speaks about more than “an isolated instance” with problems with the VAMC’s. Not sure if I like my Vet getting his dental work at a VAMC and I don’t think I want him to get his colonoscopies from the VAMCs either!!!

          HEADS needs to ROLL; Time is up on the medical mismangement and unacceptable treatment of Veterans and family members by the VAMC.

          There are no open door policies at the VAMCs that I have queried; by design? I’m sure!! The PA doesn’t work either!!

          HINT: Try indepth exit interviews with Veterans who’ve worked at the VAMCs for years; they know…But wait until they are completely retired and gone. I’ve heard quite a bit of interesting facts from these retired Federal Employees.

          SOMETHINGS IS WRONG and hiding your heads in the sand is not working!!

          BH
          Vetwife Advocate

  13. Francis Bill says:

    A lot could be done to help If there was a lot of inprovment on the Medical side. While I am not at the point of thing about killing my self I can understant Why some do this.

    I have an unknow health problem Have been trying for 5 years to get answers.
    They do standed test and tell me they are normal so do no more tests. The whole medical department needs to be fixing. What I belive I have is hyperaldosteronism I have done a lot of online research on this. My VA doctor doesn’t tell me to stop looking on the internet. They do nothing for me.

  14. Mike says:

    Alex
    Can you really tell me what this blog site is about, it seems to me, that it is a blog for the benefit of the VA and not the veteran.
    You state on the first post of this article about how nice it is to “hear something not cyclical” well let me tell you that is correct I would love to hear something not cyclical from the people that have had my claim for years.
    I would love to hear something not cyclical about how many tens of thousands of veterans need there benefits.
    So it seems to me after reading this blog it is a propaganda for government more than veterans, always something not to harsh, but just harsh enough to not seem to one sided.
    Tell the facts as they really are the VA is a totally corrupt system, period.giving out bonus’s and we can’t even get medical help.
    Not much differance between VA and Wall Street to me.
    Mike

  15. Jeff says:

    Here’s my experience with the VAMC Cheyenne. I retired disabled. Didn’t take the medical retirement, had too many years in. As soon as I walked out the gate, I walked in the front door of VAMC Cheyenne. At first stuff was slow from my perspective. Going from E-8 pay and working to civ and high 3 and unable to work was bad. Not enough money coming in, too much going out and all I’d get was that dumb letter every month saying we’re working your claim. 6 months go by, savings are about gone and we’re wondering what goes first, the house, the truck or what. Finally they caught up and I got 100% temp. stayed that way till I got to the point I could look for a job. Guess what, no one wants to hire a broken down old crew chief. % drops below 100 cause I “can” work. Went to school on the VA voc rehab, which by the way was a great experience, added money in my pocket, updated my skills and got me out of the house which was depressing me bad. Finally after three years no work, miracle happened, buddy from the old days needed help and I fit the bill. Now I’m working. But through it all, once I got into the system, the VA stood by me and gave me as much help as they could. Only bad experience came out of the Denver VA, nother story, maybe later.
    Bottom line of this story, once in, never stop trying. Having a great VA next door is a big help. OT, PT, ER, Ortho, every department I’ve dealt with has been a positive experience. I caveat that with one irritant, the pharmacy. The pharmacy is slow, unfortunately, during peak times. If you can stop by there on off hours and you have to learn what they are, service there is as good as it gets.
    My experience with other VAMC is limited to what my Dad went thru as a Korean War Vet. If it’s a good VA (Walla Walla, Vancouver, sometimes Portland) good things happen. If its a less positive VA (Salt Lake City, Denver), much time is wasted with some VA employees who think the Vets are there for them instead of the other way around.
    Final note: at no time have I gone to the Cheyenne VA and not been able to get help. Every single time I’ve gone there I got the help I needed. Others? Can’t speak for them, only myself.

    • Jeff says:

      One point should have been mentioned, sorry for forgetting. The Mental Health folks are the best bar none. I needed help but was too thick to figure it out. Figured as a Marine I could handle everything on my own. Wrong, after much prodding by my PA, I got an appointment. Got help, and still getting help. PTSD stinks on rye bread and without help, it’ll destroy a person. If you can’t sleep cause of the nightmares, afraid to go to sleep cause of them, get grumpier than a polar bear with ‘roids at the drop of a pin, get help.
      nuf said

  16. Squid says:

    I applaud you for responding to comments posted on social media sites and reaching out to vets in need, but unless the system has changed with the Durham, NC VA hospital, simply reaching out will not help the vet in desperate need. Several years ago my wife worked for a private mental health hospital in Raleigh, NC. She had a young veteran self admit himself to the hospital, no insurance. Of course being a private facility they only provided very short assistance to those without the ability to pay. She did her best to try to get the VA involved for this young Veteran in desparate need of help. He was suicidal to the point where when he checked himself in, his comment to my wife was it was better to check myself in here without insurance than to go the garage with my shotgun. This was a young man, not only with the ideation, but also a plan. When my wife called the VA hospital in Durham, NC, she was told that for an acute crisis there was a 2 week wait for admission!!!! Really, are you F@$*%ing serious???!!!! WTF, 2 weeks for someone who’s suicidal to be admitted for treatment??? Now I remind you that this was several years ago, and hopefully things have changed, because this is no way for our VA system to treat our soliers (& sailors) who are in a desperate need of help.
    Again I am truly grateful that there is someone reaching out to the vets who post comments on social media sites that would identify them as being in need of help. I just hope that the rest of the system is capable of providing that assistance once we get them into the system.

  17. Having dealt with suicide attempts both in and out of the Military/VA system I am all too familiar with what some medical professionals do.

    One doctor upon my first attempt actually had the nerve to tell me I hadn’t taken enough to do it anyway. He was not only a doctor he was an Army Doctor stationed in Germany where my first attempts were. The German shrink they gave me at the mental health facility first told me to stop drinking and sent me back to the barracks.

    Now the VA is telling me that maybe I have issues that are military related but they are making me prove it? Its ridiculous to leave any Veteran who was taught in the service that you take care of each other like your brother & sister only to be left on the wayside and forced to prove that your issues which took place in the service are service related?

    Here’s your Honorable Discharge now get out? Mental health issues need to be taken more seriously than just given an Honorable Discharge with a code 4 and ignore them afterwards.

  18. All parts of a veterans mental health is treated as being service connected and that’s people who committed taboo type crimes and end up in prison with no help from the VA Because they won’t except these crimes as mental illness from a war. War is craziness from everywhere Causing confusion and nothing is safe from confusion, and adding the neglect of the VA only creates more confusion and fear of being all alone. Those boys were in a war also.

  19. Sorry the other post should begin with Not. Now, There are veterans like me who have children with major problems that point to agent orange. I even have two grandchildren one had a tumor in his eye and had to have the eye removed and his sister has brittle bone. There are others but there is no help for the children or grandchildren because the veteran is a male, only children of women vets get help. I know how those vets feel there is nothing they can do but, say I am sorry son daughter or grandchild. That is not enough to ease the pain of the hurt and pain they caused that has them in a bubble all alone. I have also seen children of men from the Gulf war that had children with stuff like cancer, I know a girl of a veteran of that war who has bone cancer in her leg and it had to be cut out. She was a basket ball player and can no longer play ever. So there are many things That can cause someone to kill themselves the VA needs to look into.

  20. John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

    please see my post that disappeared because of an authentication error … oh, its gone!

    Cavit emptor people … watch your step with the VA you have suffered enough already.

  21. John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

    For a second time I just tried to post some thoughts and got the same authentication error …

    … talk about not being listened to … :-O … BTW it should read “caveat Emptor”

    Sorry

  22. John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

    sorry … caveat emptor

    One more time …

    I am a veteran
    I suffer from Major Depression (with associated suicidal tendencies)
    I am a clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience
    I work in a VA mental health clinic (at least for the moment anyway)
    I receive my mental health care in the VA
    I am a civil servant
    I am a human being

    It should not take much for anyone to understand why I am completely and totally confused by the VA’s reponse to suicide … I don’t get it; so if there are readers out there who are struggling with the same predicament … you are not alone.

    • Alex Horton says:

      John, are there ways to respond to suicide that you’ve learned in your career that might benefit fellow mental health professionals? We need creative solutions if the problem is going to be addressed.

      • John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

        I know that …. my patients know that …. but as a whole, the VA tends to avoid learning anything that does not fit into its own conceptual box

        • John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

          BTW, any fellow mental health professional worth his or her salt “get’s it” as well. One obvious “creative solution” that comes to mind is for the VA administrative folks stop preventing clinicians from doing the work of preventing suicide. There are no effective solutions by “chasing windmills” – its time for the VA to “get a clue”

  23. Simmering says:

    I avoided the VA for over 20 years. PTSD subsumed me as a person. I know how to alienate by default, and have. I’m a lone wolf to my bones now.

    The LAST thing I wanted was to deal with the VA. The fear of the institution being the impotent hand of the real military; the horror stories of how poorly the VA treats vets ( which I believe is by design, for money reasons ); the engrained belief that the only vets who turn to the VA or have PTSD are malingering, slacking, moochers ( and who wants to self-identify at as that but a coward? ); the failures of the OIG to take a greater responsibility of investigating and PROSECUTING abuses to vets; the hiring of sub-par doctors who barely speak English ( no offense, but of all relationships where understanding is fundamental, the doctor/patient relationship is prime ); and I could go on and on.

    I saw the wake I left behind me while I denied and denied my PTSD. While I denied the multi-symptom ‘mystery’ problems of my body that the DOD STILL denies ( hey ho Persian Gulf War + anthrax + PB etc etc – google it ). And entire generation of vets, ( 9.600 of which came home to die ) of Persian Gulf vets have been shunted aside and now virtually unoticed with the new vets in greater numbers coming in to the VA…only add to the message that we don’t count, we never did, we’re disposable, etc….yeah.

    Add to this fact the double whammy of any vet who’s also Female. Now you want to talk about some sidelined, minimized vets? Talk about them. There are around 8,000 homeless female vets. Why? Because the VA has only recently been marketing to them. Well, how do they see it when they .ive in an alley or under a bridge you idiots?!! And female vets in many wars, not just the recent ones, DID and DO suffer PTSD from conflict. But the VA wants to spread the nonsense that the only reason a female vet might suffer PTSD is if she was sexually abused. Give me a break!

    You guys having a hard time getting noticed for your service, huh huh, ho wmany times have YOU looked at a woman at the VA and just assumed she must be someones wife?

    I’ve seen this crap for over 20 years. I’ve heard all the lip service. I’ve experienced personally the insanity called the VA. Go ahead complain and see what happens. You will be vilified, you will be marked as a trouble maker, and the service towards you will get worse and worse. Funy how that happens huh? What a coinky-dink.

    I’ve got a few ‘creative solutions’. Hire some former combat first shirts for one. For two, after hiring VA personnel, make manadatory dress rules. No flip-flops in the hospital. Anywhere. When I see office personnel dressing like they’re at the beach, I know QUALITY service is either on it s way our or already gone. What in the world?! Administrative personnel need to be trained and routinely reminded that they are serving people who risked or sacrificed their bodies and their minds to this country, and so deserve the utmost sensitivity, respect, compassion, and alertness. Office managers should be held to high standards. So many people who get jobs in the VA instantly go to sleep, become apathetic, and then have the gall to wonder why a vet gets disgusted, frustrated, and angry. These people need to be FIRED, not reprimanded. But in some areas, like it or not, that ‘race card’ would be played and the VA’s afraid of retaliation lawsuits like that. Ah, the elephant in the room no one wants to mention huh?

    Just as Agent Orange was denied for decades, so too GWS is denied and denied no matter how credible the researchers are, no matter how foolrpoof the findings, no matter how many respected credentials and reputations the doctors have who say that, yes, this is absolutely been happening. Me and those I served with are denied, denied, denied. I had a vso tell me directly,”The VA does NOT care about you.” How much more honest can you get?

    I only suspected it once. Now I know it’s true. Why would I go to the VA fo rhelp when I feel like crawling under a rock? So their security cops in the ward can beat me up? ( hell durham!! ). So the all powerful shrinks can dope me up? ( great ). And the ONLY group for female vets with PTSD is related to those claiming some form of sexual trauma ( which makes me wonder seriously what happened to this new generation of young men – are you not MEN? No man I ever served with would have stooped to such cowardice, so it’s very sad indeed that this new gen of female vets might’ve been so poorly mistreated by their brothers in arms ). Or, are some of them just desperate enough to feel like the only way they can get help is to claim something like that happened?

    My vso was right. The VA does NOT ‘care’. They could give a rats backside. The best thing for them to happen to me would be for me to go away for good. I’ve kept my mouth shut for over 20 years suffering on my own because it was the ‘honorable’ way. Right. What a line of b.s. We’re all good little robots, easily programmed, and carrying onwards alone. Well, a lot of us are anyway.

    P>S> why the need for an email? comments ought to be allowed anonymity imho

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  26. maurice scott says:

    We, not the employees of this agency tasked to make up every reason why we shouldn’t feel because of lack of the ability to survive, support their family is not enough to push you over the edge. This is a agency that blames everyone except themselves. How many vets have to jump off the cliff before you say finance and balance are interconnected. We know from the period of admission that agent Orange will kill you, that 40 years is your norm. We deserve better but realize that new million dollar buildings are more important than va disability payments. I was thrown through a windshield of a govt vehicle I have for years even so much as the military doctor recommending my discharge of course the military ignored it, but my face bears the scars, I have been diagnosed but this office can’t seem to read, at least I thought, only to find that mysteriously from 1980 to 1986 records has disappeared, so I ask you wouldn’t that make your already difficult condition worst. Or being diagnosis with tbi, only to have the regional office say you are not, now on the first page of your va medical file say in plain English what you have. When your clinicians says the regional office has created a continual decline in veterans health, really you don’t think they are interconnected. You live in a bubble, while these regional offices are basically destroying veterans, our claims are decided by actuarial principles, stalling is decided by accountants instead of doctors. The va needs to stop hurting us by excuses instead care for us with the truth.