Operation Speak Up is an ISEPP effort to change our government’s policy regarding the treatment of service members and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. At present, the government’s first-line of treatment is the prescription of dangerous psychiatric drug cocktails that are ineffective at best and deadly at worst. This harm includes the typical “side effects” that cause serious health problems, chemical insults to the brain and its functioning, and a dampening of important emotional signals that result in an “I don’t care” attitude among those taking these drugs. This last problem can diminish concern for the consequences of one’s actions and increase the risk of impulsive and reckless behavior. The government’s first-line treatment is driven by the idea that post-traumatic reactions are symptoms of the disease called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and therefore, must be medicated. In reality though, there is nothing abnormal about such reactions to war.
Over the last few years we have witnessed a rash of news reports of unusually high suicide rates, sudden cardiac deaths, and acts of violence committed by those who have been prescribed these chemical cocktails. ISEPP maintains that psychiatric drugs can significantly increase the risk of these terrible events.
ISEPP’s view of post-traumatic stress differs greatly from the prevailing view. We assert that post-traumatic reactions are normal and expected responses to horrific and shocking experiences. We urge the government to abandon their reliance on psychiatric drugs, and instead use various forms of exposure-based talk therapies, group therapy, and peer counseling, all of which show strong empirical evidence of effectiveness without the risks that drugs have. These safer and more effective forms of treatment help integrate the traumatic memories, express the horrors, find meaning, and develop a sense of bonding with others who understand. They also allow those so affected to address the broader moral questions about war and its use as a political tool.
The name “Operation Speak Up” was chosen to highlight not only our desire to speak up about this problem, but also to reflect our hope that PTSD survivors speak up about their experiences instead of being shut up by psychiatric drugs.
Mary Vieten, Ph.D., ABPP is the current Director of Operation Speak Up.
Melwood, a non-profit agency in the greater Washington, DC area, and dedicated to enriching the lives of people with disabilities, has asked Dr. Vieten to design a veterans retreat for the treatment of Operational Stress Injuries. The program will kick off this fall. This program features an unapologetic zero drug approach and “PTSD” education modules. These modules are designed to empower active duty members and veterans who have served in combat. The focus is on teaching them about the fallacies in mental health (e.g., our DSM labeling system and the problem of referring to traumatic reactions as “illnesses") and psychopharmacology claims, while front loading them with over 10 hours of education on various interventions that can actually effect change in their overall condition and time and opportunities to implement many of these interventions.
Dr. Vieten, Dr. Joe Tarantolo, and Dr. Toby Watson met with several congressional staffers in Washington, DC to discuss Operation Speak Up and the problems with the manner in which the Department of Defense and Veterans' Affairs are treating our military and veterans who have experienced war trauma.
They met with the Republican VA Subcommittee on Health, Democratic VA Staff Director, Democratic Staff Director for Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, the Legislative Counsel for Congressman Mike Coffman, the US Senate VA Committee, and lastly with Bill Chatfield, a well-connected Republican operative who is concerned about the over-medication of troops and veterans, and who has expressed a personal mission to rectify this problem.
Informed Consent for Psychiatric Drugs Brochure:
This brochure was authored by Dr. Chuck Ruby, former Director of Operation Speak Up, when Dr. Mary Vieten, then deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, requested a hand out for troops who were questioning the recommendation that they take psychotropic medications or who were coming to mental health and requesting specific drugs because of the ads they had seen. It was found to be useful and was very well received. The brochure is not copyrighted, so please download it from the ISEPP webpage and use it in your own practice.
Dr. Mary Vieten, Ph.D., ABPP, Commander USN, has taken over from Dr. Ruby as the Director of Operation Speak Up. Dr. Vieten is a prolific speaker on Operational Stress Injuries and uses every invited address as a platform to discuss the issues with psychotropic drugs in general, and the medication of troops for responses that are within the realm of normal human experiences, specifically, PTSD. The response to her unvarnished approach to this subject is overwhelmingly positive. She is repeatedly thanked by audience members for being frank, honest, clear, and for “having the courage” to speak the truth.
Dr. Vieten believes in grass roots approaches to greater change. To this end, she and her colleagues believe in educating and empowering one member or veteran at a time, providing them with the literature they need to defend their position and spread the word, providing them the DoD instructions that allow them to decline psychotropic medications or any unwanted medical intervention without negative consequences (DoD 6000.4), and obtaining fully informed consent they did not receive when the medications were prescribed and dispensed. She is also frequently asked to speak on these topics to busy medical professionals, who are always grateful for the scientific information, alternatives, and instructions.
Dr. Ruby participated in the filming of a CNN story publicizing Operation Speak Up’s mission. The story was scheduled to air for Veteran’s Day but was delayed.
ISEPP issued a statement commending President Obama’s 2012 executive order calling for improved treatment of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Dr. Ruby, Joe Tarantolo, M.D., and Dathan Paterno, Ph.D. visited congressional offices urging support of Senator Patty Murray’s (D-Washington) 2012 Mental Health ACCESS Act. Senator Murray’s act focused on the scientific review of the literature to find safe and effective treatment for post-traumatic stress, and it emphasized talk therapy and peer counseling over psychiatric drug treatment. Most of her provisions were eventually incorporated into the 2013 Defense Authorization Act.
A letter writing campaign was initiated to encourage Congress and the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs to implement the 2013 Defense Authorization Act’s provisions, and to include ISEPP as part of any team that reviews the scientific literature to identify safe and effective treatment of post-traumatic stress.
Chuck Ruby, Ph.D., Lieutenant Colonel (retired) has been named the Director of Operation Speak Up. Operation Speak Up is an outgrowth of earlier work by Al Galves, Ph.D. (former ISEPP Executive Director) to encouraged Defense Department and Veterans' Affairs officials to discourage the use of psychiatric drugs in treating PTSD. The name "Operation Speak Up" was suggested by Joe Tarantolo, M.D. (former ISEPP Chairman of the Board of Directors)