The VA Still Lobotomizes Veterans with PTSD

imagesThe Lobotomy Files

If you have not followed the Wall Street Journal’s “the Lobotomy Files” I highly recommend it to watch and read. The project chronicles the storied controversy over the use of lobotomies on Veteran Patients just after World War II in the VA system. In a flurry of trying anything to treat then undiagnosed PTSD, over two thousand Veterans were lobotomized. The stories are both chilling and sad. What I find most troubling is that this is not just a look into the past, but also a glimpse into a report of our future. Tales of failed shock treatment, water treatment and finally a lobotomy depict a horrible life for a returned and committed Veteran with PTSD into the VA system.

Some of the more horrific outtakes:

Shock treatment THEN the lobotomy:

“Within a month, VA headquarters set guidelines. It ordered doctors to limit lobotomies to cases “in which other types of treatment, including shock therapy, have failed” and to seek permission of the patient’s nearest relative.”

“At the VA, Dr. Freeman pushed the frontiers of ethically acceptable medicine. He said VA psychiatrists, untrained in surgery, should be allowed to perform lobotomies by hammering ice-pick-like tools through patients’ eye sockets. And he argued that, while their patients’ skulls were open anyway, VA surgeons should be permitted to remove samples of living brain for research purposes.”  

I wonder how many of us are lab rats for the latest batch of lobotomy drugs?

What’s in a Lobotomy?

When I came home from Iraq and got linked into the VA, like countless others, I was prescribed a cocktail of drugs.  At any given time, I was on no less than two and at most six different drugs.  They were the only alternative to the nightmares and mood swings, as well as the spiraling depression. They propped me up, but I eventually realized that their use was no long term solution. Looking back, I was a blunted shell of my former self. If I did not fight to get off of them, I could easily see myself similarly described as the Veterans in the Wall Street Journal articles.

I am not a doctor. I am not a psychologist. But, I feel that these drugs over the long term are harmful. My opinion is they have a window of effectiveness before they become a harmful dependency. Unfortunately, the VA is not mindful of that window and instead hands out drugs like candy.  The VA tries to help those that can muster the strength to kick them. These drugs effectively lobotomize a Veteran. At first the effects are temporary and really do help in giving a Veteran a fighting chance at staring down the issues. However, if over the long term, a Veteran with a lobotomy and a Veteran on a cocktail of drugs have the same net behavior, then the VA is still in the business of Lobotomies.

Getting Off the Drugs

I knew that I would not be able to live a normal life without addressing and managing the symptoms of PTSD. It became apparent through that process, that I couldn’t live a normal life with these drugs either. I developed a plan with my therapist to get off the drugs and it was not only a personal goal, but a goal of therapy as well.  Coming down off of my meds was horrible. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I was even more irritable than normal. When I found that I was coming down and I was having a hard time, I often ran right back to the medicine cabinet. Cold Turkey was painful, so I started cutting my pills. It was so bad and I was such a bastard, my wife could tell when I was coming down and would often ask. Ultimately, I went through the full withdrawal by talking with my doctor and flat stopped ordering them from the VA. It was a harrowing month for everyone in my house. Headache’s, nausea, the ringing in my ears, erratic heartbeat. Getting to sleep was hell. But, I am so glad now that I was able to kick them. Losing weight was easier. My concentration improved. My creativity returned. Instead of an emotionally blunted existence, I was able to feel deeply again.

The Substitute

The short and easy answer to a drug alternative is pretty simple: stay in therapy (I transitioned out of “one on one” and into group), exercise regularly, and eat right. All of those things make a difference. I was and am regimented about therapy, exercise, and food. When any of them slip, I feel off balance. Attack those three with vigor and you will be well on your way to kicking the meds and living a more fulfilled Post Traumatic life.

Please comment if you are a Veteran or family member and still under the influence of the VA meds or had a similar story.   As always, please share and thanks again for reading.

3 thoughts on “The VA Still Lobotomizes Veterans with PTSD

  1. Juliza Ramirez-Wylie

    Mikey, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective on the use of medicine to treat PTSD and other post-trauma disorders. There is significant amount of research that supports the positive effects of therapy to treat PTSD. Specifically Prolonged Exposure and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or its military counterpart (Cognitive Processing Therapy [CPT]). Some times, especially at the start of the symptoms, individuals will drop out of therapy. In which case, therapy no longer serves as an effective treatment for PTSD or any other disorder. There in lies the challenge for many. And perhaps, that is when medicine can be most helpful to mediate the negatiev effects of symptoms long enough for the individual to withstand the uncomfort of therapy. In your case, it really seems like you have a supportive family that is willing to stand by you during the transition out of pharmacotherapy (medicine) to counseling therapy. You are fortunate – and we are all fortunate to have someone like you share your experiences. For some veterans, that do not feel like they have positive social support, coming off medicine to deal with the uncomfort/pain of therapy, may simply be too much of a task to handle alone. Social support groups (group therapy) can be so helpful – if we as veterans, find one that we feel comfortable in. Thanks for advocating for an effective treatment solutions to PTSD and its co-occurring cousin disorders (depression, anxiety, substance abuse etc.). And again, thank you for being brave enough to share your experiences.

  2. Mikey Piro Post author

    Juliza,

    Thank you for the candid feedback. I am truly a fan of therapy. I know it is an uphill battle to first get a Veteran in, and then not scare them away with discussion of side effects of drugs. Also, it is almost unexplainable unless you have experienced the truly difficult soul searching sessions that CBT and Prolonged Exposure bring to bear. You have a tough job. I wish I could convey face to face how hard sessions are, but how effective and wonderful the effects of treatment are too.

    Thank you for continuing to fight for us and Happy New Year!

    Sincerely,

    Mikey

  3. mikeypiro

    Juliza,

    Thank you for the candid feedback. I am truly a fan of therapy. I know it is an uphill battle to first get a Veteran in, and then not scare them away with discussion of side effects of drugs. Also, it is almost unexplainable unless you have experienced the truly difficult soul searching sessions that CBT and Prolonged Exposure bring to bear. You have a tough job. I wish I could convey face to face how hard sessions are, but how effective and wonderful the effects of treatment are too.

    Thank you for continuing to fight for us and Happy New Year!

    Sincerely,

    Mikey

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