Posted on Oct 23, 2017

GAO to Review VA’s Drug-Based Treatment of PTSD

Complaints Show VA Opts Out of Providing Therapy in Favor of Dangerous Medications

Colorado Representative Mike Coffman, a Republican known for his steadfast attention to veterans’ issues, and New Hampshire’s Ann McLane Kuster, a Democratic who has worked tirelessly to combat the opioid epidemic, have joined forces across party lines to hold the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) accountable for the way it handles the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

Defining PTSD

PTSD is exceptionally common among veterans, affecting at least 11-20% of Iraq veterans, 12% of Gulf War veterans, and 15% of Vietnam War veterans. The disorder develops after a veteran experiences a traumatic event, such as combat, and results in a variety of symptoms including but not limited to: 1) reliving the event; 2) avoiding reminders of the event; 3) negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and 4) feeling on edge. PTSD can also lead to secondary illnesses such as heart disease.

As a result of these severe symptoms, many affected veterans experience significant disruptions in their lives. Their lack of ability to concentrate, be around other people, and consistently moderate their emotional state can make it impossible for them to find and maintain employment. Therefore, the stakes of finding effective treatment are high.

Treatment Options

There are a variety of options for treating PTSD. While psychotropic medication is often prescribed, there are many alternatives that aren’t nearly as dangerous. Veterans have found success using prolonged exposure therapy, for example, as well as yoga and meditation.

While VA outwardly acknowledges the superiority of therapy-based treatments, complaints amongst veterans have revealed that VA has frequently opted to prescribe dangerous psychotropic drugs rather than providing veterans with the therapy they need.

The Danger of Relying on Psychotropic Drugs

The experiences of two Colorado veterans exemplify the potentially tragic side effects of psychotropic medications. Cory Hixson, who was prescribed a slew of medications after his second tour in Iraq, fled his home, only to be found searching for food in a garage 12 miles away. Another Iraq War veteran, Noah Harter, who had been prescribed a number of powerful medications for the PTSD he developed while deployed, ultimately committed suicide.

Unfortunately, the symptoms experienced by Cory and Noah are not uncommon. On its website, VA lists Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, and Effexor as “helpful in treating PTSD symptoms.” These drugs come with a whole host of dangerous side effects. Zoloft alone can cause hallucinations, breathing problems such as “breathing that stops,” and increased risk of violent crime conviction. Yet, the most dangerous side effect of all is associated with all four of the VA’s recommended drugs: an increased risk of suicidal ideations and attempts, particularly among adults between 18 and 24 years old.

Coffman and Kuster Ask GOA to Take Action

Coffman and Kuster, having been made acutely aware of the potential link between VA’s over-prescription of psychotropic drugs and the rising suicide rates among veterans through the experiences of their constituents, decided to take action. In a collective proposal they requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) complete a study on “how heavily the VA relies on powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients.”  On September 27th, the GAO accepted the proposal, stating that it anticipated it would complete the study in six months.

Getting the Help You Need

Stability is key to any healing process, and healing from PTSD is no different. If you are a veteran with PTSD, I will support you in applying for and obtaining the benefits you need so that you can stop worrying about money and start focusing on your recovery. With decades of experience winning PTSD-related disability and Individual Unemployability (“TDIU”) claims, I am confident I can help get you the benefits you have earned. Regardless of where you are in the process of applying for benefits, contact me today at (877) 629-1712.