This is an actual letter I mailed recently to help raise money for my veteran patient . Identifying information including the dog’s name, has been changed.
September 1, 2017
To Whom It May Concern:
Skip was referred to me by Sally H, Visiting Nurse for Veterans, Camp X, the South. He flew here to the Washington, DC area because he was informed by Colonel Sharon Z. founder of HELPFOR VETSUSA that I could help him.
Two deployments to Iraq, the deaths of a dozen comrades by enemy fire and by suicide, two suicide attempts himself, as well as musculoskeletal damage due to an enemy IED. You would think that would all be enough for him to deal with: psychological trauma, moral injury, the gut of war. No! His principle dilemma now is iatrogenic. Skip lost count after 40 different drugs had been prescribed for him over the last 7 years. When he arrived at my office on August 17, 2017, he was on high doses of nine different drugs all of which have had profound adverse reaction impact. Before arriving at the VA for medical care in 2010, his vision was perfect, now impaired. Before arriving at the VA he had normal GI functioning, now impaired. Before arriving at the VA, he had normal sexual functioning, now impaired. Before arriving at the VA, although in psychological turmoil, he had excellent cognitive function and could emotionally feel authentically, now, “I fake feeling. I know I’m supposed to feel but I can’t.” And he nods off in the middle of substantive discussion.
Skip flew 1500 miles from the MidWest because he could find no doctor with the will or the knowhow within the VA system to wean him. Be clear. Although I am an “expert,” I made it clear to Skip the complexity of dozens of psychotropic drugs interacting is BEYOND KNOWABLE. Without any guarantees, Skip and I have entered into a struggle, requiring daily monitoring and extraordinary help from his fellow vets, a different vet showing up each day to bring him along with Charlie, his companion dog, to my office since it would be dangerously foolhardy for him to drive himself.
What’s the big deal? Just stop the drugs! Well, stopping these drugs cold turkey would be inviting mortal danger. The body and all its systems, neurological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, adapt to the onslaught of these potent substances with a myriad of potential adverse reactions. Abrupt withdrawal would be like blowing up a dam, psychologically flooding – overwhelming the organism. It must be done slowly. Unfortunately, it is also painful. It takes courage, “I’m willing to put up with the pain if I can just be normal again.”
Why all the drugs? Thousands upon thousands of veterans are going through this. I believe the difficult answer to this question is that the VA has been infiltrated with self-defeating, and what I consider odious ideas about what it means to have suffered the damage of war battle. Pathologizing these returning warriors rather than accepting, hearing, understanding, and supporting their terror-filled experiences drives them further into misery, e.g., as soon as the idea of “suicide” is mentioned almost invariably the VA physician reaches for the prescription pad. And as the veteran experiences the first adverse reaction, the second drug is added, then the third, the fourth, etc. In time there is utter confusion about what is “real” and what is drug-induced. The chance then of finding a remedy becomes less and less.
So I will work with Skip this next year, seeing him frequently, daily when necessary, doing the necessary testing (e.g., he is probably Mg depleted as his GERD caused by one of his many drugs is being treated with yet another drug, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which potentially depletes this essential element. Note, he has been on this drug for more than six years while the recommended length of time to use PPIs is about three months!) and, most importantly working psychotherapeutically, existentially, spiritually as he comes to grips with war trauma. Ultimately, his goal is to help other vets. I believe he’ll do it.
Finally, Nurse Sally is paying for his treatment out of her own pocket. I am giving her some discount. This is a travesty! The government agency that has so poorly treated this veteran does not now take the responsibility of paying for the treatment that he had to seek out on his own. As an American, I feel shame and I am disheartened.
Joseph Tarantolo, MD
Board Certified Psychiatrist