DEPRESSION MED: Woman Turns Into a “Botox Bandit” Florida

Paragraph 19 reads: “In April, Tampa police reported they took Merk into protective custody for mental evaluation after she sent her ex-boyfriend a text message indicating she was suicidal. Police noted she was taking medication for depression.”

http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1015369.ece

Spa manager believes she is a victim of the Botox Bandit
By Justin George, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, July 3, 2009

TAMPA ­ The woman came in looking to peel off her past.

Blond hair, blue eyes, gym shorts. Like the girl next door, thought the manager of Skin NV, a med spa that opened in May.

The client said her 10-year high school reunion was around the corner and she wanted to be the envy of everyone else.

The spa obliged.

Chemical peel: $50. Laser treatment: $348. A protein-rich recovery cream: $155. Clarisonic Skin Care Brush: $195. Prescription-grade Vitamin A: $74.

Then came the bill: $851.68, not uncommon in South Tampa, where looks matter and women have the means, said Anne Nelson, Skin NV’s manager.

The client wrote a check and signed it Jaimie Merk.

Five days later, on June 15, the check bounced. It bounced again on repeat tries. Nelson has the bank paperwork to prove it.

That’s when she learned the story of the Botox Bandit.

“What kind of girl does this?” she asks now. “I just don’t understand.”

• • •

On Jaimie Merk’s Facebook page, her profile photo flashes an even, bright white smile.

She’s single, 32, and says she works as a weight-loss clinic director.

She majored in psychology at the University of North Florida.

Yoga is her new obsession, she notes on Facebook. She loves lying in the sun, hearing a baby laugh and getting facials.

She has nearly 400 friends. Some write her daily.

She doesn’t like to be called “ma’am.”

Elsewhere, a different picture of Merk appears.

Once, in a courtroom, a doctor testified that her self-esteem was so low that she resorts to stealing Botox to feel better, according to an attorney who was part of the proceedings.

In April, Tampa police reported they took Merk into protective custody for mental evaluation after she sent her ex-boyfriend a text message indicating she was suicidal. Police noted she was taking medication for depression.

People victimized by Merk do not have much sympathy.

Their names show up in lawsuits and court judgments.

• • •

In August 2007, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office asked the public for help catching the “Botox Bandit.”

A woman had shown up at Rejuva Plastic Surgery Center and Medi-Spa, received a facial and cosmetic procedures, and then disappeared leaving an $850 bill. She used an alias.

The Sheriff’s Office had a picture of the suspect ­ made possible because the plastic surgeon had taken a “before” photo.

A tip led deputies to Jaimie Merk, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s officials said at the time.

It was just one of several cases that landed her on probation until 2012 for several convictions of grand theft and worthless checks in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Her civil court and probation files contain claims from pet supply stores, renters and even an adoption agency saying she owes them money.

Those who have dealt with Merk wonder whether there are other victims.

• • •

Pregnant in 2004, Merk agreed to turn over her unborn child to adoptive parents through Heart of Adoptions of Tampa, according to a lawsuit the agency filed.

She told the adoption agency that she had no idea who the father was, the lawsuit stated. She said she met him at a bar.

Medical records stated that Joshua Sean Squires was the father. But Merk signed a notarized statement disputing that, the lawsuit said.

The adoptive parents and the agency paid her more than $5,000 for living expenses, attorney fees and other costs.

A few weeks later, the agency heard from Squires.

In an interview with the Times, he said he was in a weeks-­long relationship with Merk when she became pregnant.

“She knew she was pregnant with my child,” he said. “There was no one-night stand with anyone, and I was in the delivery room on Dec. 23, 2004.”

Squires, 30, now has custody of the 4½-year-old girl.

In 2006, a judge ordered Merk to pay the agency $6,113, court records show.

The agency’s executive director, Brigette Barno, said Monday that Merk has paid nothing.

• • •

In January 2008, prospective renters responded to an ad on Craigslist advertising a Seminole Heights house that belongs to Merk’s mother, according to Hillsborough property records.

Two of them, Angela Hart and Eric Younghans, wound up suing Merk in small claims court. Hart also sued Merk’s mother.

They say Jaimie Merk showed them a house and collected $1,900 from each of them.

Hart, suspicious after Merk delayed the move-in date, looked her up on Google and learned of her Botox Bandit past. She asked for her money back. In a court document, she said Merk agreed.

Younghans, meanwhile, learned from Merk that the house wouldn’t be available. Merk told him she would refund his money, he said.

Neither got a refund. Merk made excuses, they said. Sometimes she didn’t return calls.

In 2008, a judge ordered her to pay each $2,075. In Hart’s case, Merk’s mother was also held responsible, according to the final judgment.

So far, Hart, 30, has received $150, she said.

“She’s never going to learn her lesson,” Hart said of Merk. “People say people change. They don’t.”

Younghans, 56, has received $150, he said.

“She seemed very believable,” he said. “She’s very good at it.”

• • •

Merk did not respond to a voice mail message from the Times for this story. A note was left at her door seeking comment. An attorney who represented her did not call back.

“I’m not giving any comments,” said her mother, Debra Merk, who owns a $1.1 million waterfront house in Clearwater Beach. “As far as I know, what you’re saying is not true.”

• • •

In hindsight, the Skin NV manager said she felt a little wary about Merk’s June 10 check when she noticed the address in a neighborhood of rentals.

After the check bounced, she tried to call Merk. The phone numbers Merk left didn’t work.

Nelson sent her business partner to Merk’s stated address, a pink apartment building. The partner left a note.

No one called back.

Nelson contacted the Hillsborough County Victims Assistance program. A counselor helped her start the process of filing a bad check complaint. That process is now under way. No charges have been filed.

Nelson even tried to connect with Merk by inviting her to be a “friend” on Facebook.

Merk didn’t respond.

On June 25, after a Times reporter left messages for Merk, she sent an e-mail to the spa.

“I’m very sorry I did not contact you sooner,” she wrote. “I have not had a phone since you left that letter at my apartment, and I just received another letter in the mail today.

“I just want you to know that I am very sorry for this, and of course I’m going to pay for the services I received,” she wrote. “I am just not sure why you have chosen to take this further without even giving me the opportunity to rectify the situation.”

Merk said she would bring the money in this week.

Nelson told her the spa would be closed Friday.

By the end of the day Thursday, Merk hadn’t paid.

• • •

On a Facebook quiz, Merk writes that she loves the smell of flowers and wants to meet the man of her dreams.

Two things she is proud of? Her daughter and family.

Two things she is not proud of? “Let’s keep those in the closet,” she wrote.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368.

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DEPRESSION MED: Soldier Commits Suicide: Iraq/New Hampshire

Paragraphs 3 & 4 read: “Last week, 37-year-old Dane took his life in California where he was stationed. His family in Auburn questions if more could have been done to prevent his death.”

“They say he sought help from the military to battle depression and PTSD and was on medication.”

http://www.wmur.com/news/19934903/detail.html

Full Military Honors Planned For Marine

Family Questions Whether He Should Have Been Given More Help
POSTED: 11:19 pm EDT July 2, 2009
UPDATED: 11:43 pm EDT July 2, 2009

AUBURN, N.H. — New Hampshire is preparing to lay a Marine to rest with full military honors.

Staff Sgt. Charles Edward Dane, known as Eddie to family and friends, served six combat tours, dedicating 15 years in service to the country.

Last week, 37-year-old Dane took his life in California where he was stationed. His family in Auburn questions if more could have been done to prevent his death.

They say he sought help from the military to battle depression and PTSD and was on medication.

After two DUIs, Dane was being processed out of the service he loved.

A funeral with full military honors will be held Monday at noon at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen.
Tell Us More: E-mail WMUR your tips and story ideas.

Copyright 2009 by WMUR. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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ANTIDEPRESSANT WITHDRAWAL: Suicide: Recent Withdrawal: Michigan

Often there is the terrible withdrawal associated with the SSRIs. Unless patients are warned to come very slowly off these drugs by shaving minuscule amounts off their pills each day, as opposed to cutting them in half or taking a pill every other day, they can go into terrible withdrawal which is generally delayed several months. This withdrawal includes bouts of overwhelming depression, terrible insomnia and fatigue, and can include life-threatening physical effects, psychosis, or violent outbursts.

Paragraph 7 reads: “Fessenden disputes reports that his son was taking multiple prescription drugs. He said his son recently went off anti-depressants.”

Relatives remember Oceana man as generous person

by Chad D. Lerch | The Muskegon Chronicle
Friday July 03, 2009, 6:41 AM

Roger Fessenden

OCEANA COUNTY — Dale Fessenden says his son, who was found dead June 25 in an Oceana County pond, will be remembered as a caring person who always put others first.

His son, Roger Dale Fessenden, 40, of Rothbury suffered a back injury at work earlier this year when he fell 20 feet while cleaning a storage tank. He underwent back surgery in February, family members said.

Roger Fessenden was reported missing June 23 and was found dead two days later in a pond known by locals as Oceana Lake in Grant Township.

Dale Fessenden said his son often had a difficult time sleeping because of back pain. He said Roger would take prescription sleeping pills and then go for drives in his car. He suspects the sleeping pills affected his son’s judgment.

On the night he went missing, Roger Fessenden likely took sleeping pills before venturing out, his father said.

“He didn’t know what he was doing and just took off,” he said. “I’m convinced that’s what happened to him.”

Fessenden disputes reports that his son was taking multiple prescription drugs. He said his son recently went off anti-depressants.

Family members said they want Roger Fessenden to be remembered as someone with a generous heart.

Dale Fessenden said his son once went shopping for a stranger in the hospital — just because he wanted to help.

“That’s the kind of person my son was,” he said. “He was the most polite person in my life.”

Oceana County Sheriff Bob Farber said a toxicology report is pending in the investigation into Roger Fessenden’s death. The report could return from the lab in the next two weeks.

But in the meantime, the county coroner has ruled the cause of death as drowning. It remains unclear how Fessenden ended up in the pond.

Fessenden, a longtime resident of Ferry, is survived by his wife, Blanco Suarez, two stepchildren and his parents.

E-mail Chad D. Lerch at clerch@muskegonchronicle.com

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PROZAC: Man Kills Girlfriend: Stabs her Over 200 Times: New Zealand

Second paragraph from the end reads: “She knew he could be mean and nasty when he was under stress and that he had been seeing a psychotherapist for years. She also knew he was on the antidepressant drug known as prozac.”

SRI Stories note: A second article follows and states that the girl was stabbed over 200 times.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10582076

Tutor had ‘nasty, mean side’ ex-girlfriend tells court
11:31AM Thursday Jul 02, 2009

Sophie Elliott was stabbed to death. Photo / Supplied
Living with Clayton Weatherston could be “a bit like walking on eggshells”, a former girlfriend of the 33-year-old former University economics tutor told the Christchurch High Court this morning.

The trial was later adjourned until tomorrow after a juror collapsed.It will reconvene at 10am tomorrow.

The young woman whose identity is suppressed was in a relationship with Weatherston for two to three years until 2007 when he became involved with Sophie Elliott, a 22-year-old Honours student.

Weatherston stabbed Miss Elliott to death at her Ravensbourne home on January 9 last year and is on trial for murder.

He has admitted manslaughter but denies the killing was murder. The defense says he was provoked by the pain of the tumultuous relationship with Miss Elliott and because she attacked him with a pair of scissors.

The young woman was giving evidence on the seventh day of Weatherston’s trial.

To defense counsel Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, she said she learned she had to be “quite careful” with Weatherston. If she said something that set him off he would “really go off”.

But she agreed their relationship was generally loving and kind although she found it really stressful when he came under stress “He had two sides, a loving and generous side and a nasty, mean side which he seldom showed in public,” the woman said.

During their time together, she had never challenged Weatherston nor questioned his sexual performance. And she would not have compared his sexual organs to anyone else’s although she did once “reluctantly” when he asked her directly.

She never implied he was “a retard” but Weatherston told her Sophie Elliott had called him that.

” I thought she was probably saying it in jest and I suggested that to him. I said I didn’t think it was directed to his intelligence or meant that way.

“But he took it differently, and referred to it several times,” the young woman said.

She knew he could be mean and nasty when he was under stress and that he had been seeing a psychotherapist for years. She also knew he was on the antidepressant drug known as prozac.

“You knew he was psychologically fragile?” Mrs Ablett-Kerr asked, and the witness agreed there was “an element of fragility” to his personality.

– OTAGO DAILY TIMES
——————————————————————————————————-
Second paragraph reads: “The university tutor is accused of killing Sophie Elliott by stabbing her more than 200 times.”

http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/tears-flow-weatherston-trial-2824693

Tears flow at Weatherston trial
Published: 12:29PM Thursday July 02, 2009

Source: NZPA/ONE News

Emotions spilled over in the murder trial of Clayton Weatherston in Christchurch on Thursday as letters he wrote after his arrest were read to the court.

The university tutor is accused of killing Sophie Elliott by stabbing her more than 200 times.

A former girlfriend of the accused, who has name suppression, read a letter she sent him while he was in jail.

“This will be a rough ride, you’ll be ok,” she read.

As Weatherston’s ex-girlfriend began to cry, there were tears from Clayton Weatherston too. His lawyer had to take over reading a letter he had written back.

“I’m nervous about court on Thursday and I’m annoyed my side will not be made public,” the letter, from just days after he stabbed Elliott to death, read.

The woman, who had been Weatherston’s girlfriend for three years, said she had written to him before she knew the extent of Elliott’s injuries.

“When I found out what had gone on…I couldn’t believe it and I wouldn’t have written a letter,” she said.

She also told the defense about the night Weatherston attacked her and kicked her across a room.

“Just before he kicked me he said ‘you ungrateful bitch’.” t

She agreed he was stressed and on anti-depressants at the time.

Just after the court adjourned, one of the jurors collapsed in the jury room.

A doctor in the court’s public gallery gave the juror medical assistance before he was taken away by an ambulance.

“We will get a report from the hospital after they have been able to assess his condition,” Justice Potter said.

If he is too unwell to continue, the court will reconvene at 10am on Friday with a jury of just 11.

Here is the complete list of adverse reactions attributable to SSRI medications:

1. Insomnia

2. Vivid and violent dreams

3. Inability to detect dreams from reality (The world takes on an other-worldly aspect)

4. No emotions

5. Inability to feel guilt or cry

6. Nausea

7. Loss of appetite

8. Rash; Breathing or lung problems

9. Heart fluttering

10. Shaking – jitteriness

11. Unusual energy surges at times producing super human strength (adrenalin rushes)

12. Memory impairment

13. Hair loss

14. Blurred vision or pressure behind the eyes

15. Inability to discontinue use of drug and increasing own dose

16. Cravings for alcohol, sweets, and other substances or drinking large sums of alcohol, coffee or other caffeinated drinks, diet pop with NutraSweet, etc.

17. Headaches

18. Swelling and/or pain in joints

19. Burning or tingling in extremities

20. Muscle twitching or contractions

21. Tongue numbness and slurred speech

22. Sweating

23. Dizziness

24. Confusion

25. Chills or cold sweats

26. Muscle weakness

27. Extreme fatigue

28. Diabetes or hypoglycemia

29. Lowered immune system

30. Seizures or convulsions

31. Weight gain or weight loss

32. Mood swings

33. Altered personality

34. Symptoms of mania, ie., inability to sit still or restlessness, racing thoughts, acting silly or giddy (like a teenager again)

35. Sexual promiscuity leading to unwanted pregnancy or divorce

36. Irresponsibility, wild spending sprees, gambling, criminal behavior, shoplifting, embezzling, stealing, hostility, etc.

37. Deceitfulness

38. Blank staring

39. Inability to see any alternatives in situations

40. Hyperactivity

41. Aggressive or violent behavior

42. Wanting to ram other cars or driving irrationally

43. Impulsive behavior with no concern about consequences

44. Numbness in various body parts – legs go numb and right out from under patient

45. Sexual organs go numb making orgasm impossible

46. Pulling away from loved ones and others (isolating oneself)

47. Divorce

48. No desire to be touched

49. Paranoia

50. Falsely accusing others of abuse – family members or acquaintances

51. Loss of spirituality

52. Feeling “possessed” or that something evil is inside

53. Self destructive behavior and suicidal ideation

54. Suicide attempts

55. Muscle tremors

56. Loss of co-ordination

57. Mania

58. Psychosis

[SOURCE: PROZAC: PANACEA OR PANDORA?, BY ANN BLAKE TRACY, PH.D.]

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ANTIDEPRESSANTS: Soldier’s Condition Worsens: U.S.A.

Cravings for both alcohol and cigarettes in those who never used them before are reported regularly by those taking antidepressants.

Paragraphs 14 through 18 read: “Marcus, whose name has been changed for fear of reprisal from his former military leaders, sat in a worn easy chair in his Salem studio apartment sucking on his third Marlboro in less than 20 minutes and nervously twirling an ink pen from Salem Hospital. A tall bottle of a generic prescription antidepressant sat on the end table he crafted out of leftover two-by-fours from a fencing project he worked last year. The shades were pulled and the glimmer from his lamp highlighted beads of perspiration on his forehead in the warm room.”

“’Before I left, I never smoked, not once,’ he said, as he took another long drag, letting the smoke linger in his mouth before letting it loose with a slow exhale. ‘There were a lot of things I didn’t do, ‘ he said. ‘That tour f***ed me up. When I got back, they expected me to return to life like it was before. No s***, like nothing had ever changed’.”

“Things had changed for Marcus, who said he couldn’t manage to keep his job as a welder because he would get sudden flashbacks to that one day in the Afghan village.”

“Change had also occurred for his 26-year-old wife, whom he said left him shortly after he returned, adding additional stress for the veteran to overcome.”

“’I’m the one who drove her away,’ Marcus admitted, wiping away several tears. ‘I would yell at her constantly. I hit her. I was never, never like this before I went to Afghanistan, never’.”

http://willamettelive.com/story/Soldiers_return_from_the_frontlines_to_face_war_with_VA121.html

Soldiers return from the frontlines to face war with VA
By Sheldon Traver
from WillametteLive, Section News

Posted on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 08:45:07 PM PDT

This year marks a milestone for the Oregon Army National Guard.

More than 3,000 soldiers have already left or are preparing for deployment to Iraq in 2009. It will be the largest deployment for the Oregon Army National Guard since World War II.

However, questions have recently been raised about the care veterans receive upon their return from war. Some Oregon weekend warriors are finding a Department of Veterans Affairs that is unwilling or unable to care for the long-term physical and mental disabilities they are now facing.

With little outside help, some have given up the fight and others continue to struggle for the benefits they say they deserve.

The Veterans Affairs office in Portland disputes these claims, saying it is doing more for veterans now than any time in the past, and points to increased services and a new processing facility in Hillsboro that has prepared the federal agency to aid all returning veterans.

Todd Marcus

In November 2006, then-23-year-old Army specialist Todd Marcus was on patrol in a small Afghan village outside of Kabul.

He carried his M-16 barrel down with his finger just inside the trigger housing. He sweltered under more than 50 pounds of combat gear, including body armor and a Kevlar helmet. Beads of perspiration trickled down to the palms of his gloved hands. Even with the fingertips cut off, the salty runoff made the cuts in his hands sting and itch.

Approximately 100 meters to his left, Marcus saw an Afghan police officer walking a few meters behind another police officer in patrol formation. The officer looked nervous as he scanned the rooftops, looking for those who might intend to kill him. Each little boy, each expectant mother could have been a suicide bomber, paid or extorted by insurgents to end their lives in a desperate bid to feed their families.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light filled Marcus’ peripheral vision, followed by a percussion of hot wind that knocked him aside. His sunglasses flew off and the smell of cordite wafted through the air with a cloud of concrete and dust. He looked toward the ground where the blast originated. The Afghan police officer that was walking just yards from him lay in a pool of blood along with two other officers. An improvised explosive device planted inside the corner of a bullet-riddled concrete home had taken their lives.

Once the carnage and chaos was over, all Marcus could do was cry.

Although it was the only combat action he saw, Marcus said he was severely wounded, not medically, but mentally. However, the same government that agreed to send hundreds of thousands to war is failing to provide veterans like Marcus with proper care upon their return.

Lack of funding, personnel, and an overtaxed veterans administrative system has left many without the care they were promised, according to a 2006 report by the General Accounting Office.

“(The) VA does not know the number of veterans it now treats for PTSD,” and more significantly, the “VA will be unable to estimate its capacity for treating additional veterans… and therefore, unable to plan for an increase in demand for these services,” it said in the report. Additionally, outdated procedures and processes have slowed ability to process veterans’ benefits significantly, said Troy Spurlock, a veteran who has dealt with the Veterans Benefits Administration for himself and others.

Marcus, whose name has been changed for fear of reprisal from his former military leaders, sat in a worn easy chair in his Salem studio apartment sucking on his third Marlboro in less than 20 minutes and nervously twirling an ink pen from Salem Hospital. A tall bottle of a generic prescription antidepressant sat on the end table he crafted out of leftover two-by-fours from a fencing project he worked last year. The shades were pulled and the glimmer from his lamp highlighted beads of perspiration on his forehead in the warm room.

“Before I left, I never smoked, not once,” he said, as he took another long drag, letting the smoke linger in his mouth before letting it loose with a slow exhale. “There were a lot of things I didn’t do,” he said. “That tour f***ed me up. When I got back, they expected me to return to life like it was before. No s***, like nothing had ever changed.”

Things had changed for Marcus, who said he couldn’t manage to keep his job as a welder because he would get sudden flashbacks to that one day in the Afghan village.

Change had also occurred for his 26-year-old wife, whom he said left him shortly after he returned, adding additional stress for the veteran to overcome.

“I’m the one who drove her away,” Marcus admitted, wiping away several tears. “I would yell at her constantly. I hit her. I was never, never like this before I went to Afghanistan, never.”

In 2008, Marcus called and made his first appointment with a Veterans Affairs specialist. It took months to get the initial appointment with the compensation and pension specialists and months more for the VBA to make a decision on his claim. His claim for benefits and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was denied.

“They said I was faking it,” he said. “Wel,l f*** them. If they can’t look me in the eye and see that I’m f***ed up, I don’t know what to do.”

Troy Spurlock

Spurlock, a Newberg resident and employee with the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office knows the struggles veterans face as they attempt to get the care to which they believe they are entitled. As a military police officer and a private during the first Gulf War, he was exposed to unidentified chemicals that caused fibromyalgia.

He also has a host of other ailments, injuries and post-traumatic stress requiring ongoing care. Additionally, he was systematically harassed and threatened by soldiers in his own unit.

However, unlike Marcus, he fought the system and has seen some, though not total, success serving as his own advocate.

“As soon as I got out I started the process,” Spurlock said. “I immediately realized that it’s a typical government bureaucratic process that acts much like an insurance company does. When you do finally get to see someone, you get a quick five-minute ‘Hi, how are you, what’s your claim and thank you I’ll read your file.’ You really have to jump through hoops to substantiate your claim.

“It’s not an adequate medical exam and doesn’t even touch the complexities of issues soldiers go through,” he added.

Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs is divided into three unique parts: the National Cemetery Division, the Veterans Hospital Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

Portland VHA spokesman Mike McAleer works with Oregon’s returning soldiers who return from deployments overseas. He said more is being done now to help soldiers reintegrate and get the benefits they need than any time in the past.

“We send folks to where the soldiers are,” McAleer said. “We provide them with information for enrollment and try to get them into the medical system. We also try to get them information about the services we provide. We want them to be successful when they enter the civilian-warrior portion of their lives.”

There are currently more than 330,000 vets eligible for medical benefits in Oregon, although McAleer said only one-third are taking advantage of them. Oregon Guard men and women returning from active duty are entitled to full medical coverage for five years, including mental health services.

Returning veterans need to sign up, even if they aren’t ready to file a claim,” McAleer said. “They can even do it online. It will streamline the process when they are ready to file a claim.”

To file a claim, there are many hands in the process. Veterans can file medical disability claims themselves or with the help of a specialist. The claim is filed through the VBA. If accepted, a new compensation and pension processing center in Hillsboro conducts medical and psychiatric exams. More than 1,000 requests for examination from the VBA are processed at the Hillsboro facility.

“This is where we compile information and send it to the VBA for processing,” McAleer said. “I think we’re doing a good job of reaching out to veterans and want to do more to help them.”

Once exams are complete, the files return to the Veterans Benefits Administration for further processing.

“Our organization has established a strategic goal of completing a claim in 125 days,” said Lisa Pozzebon, Assistant Director of the VA Regional Office in Portland. “Currently we have an average of 146 days.”

Claims that require a highly specialized exam or ones in the appeals process take longer, she said.

Tim Wehr

Spurlock spends part of his off time trying to reach veterans and help them navigate the stormy VA paperwork waters. His MySpace web site, www.myspace.com/support4veterans, has links to nonprofits working to help vets. Additionally, he has made it his mission to help his colleague, Tim Wehr of Sheridan, receive benefits he initially applied for in 1970 after returning from Vietnam with a purple heart, bronze star and many other decorations and awards.

Wehr currently receives a small amount of money as disability payments for an injury to his ear and PTSD. The Yamhill County Sheriff’s deputy said he still has flashbacks, especially when he hears a helicopter. He said he used to compulsively drop and roll any time he heard a helicopter, but recently was able to overcome this behavior.

Most of his military and medical records were lost in a 1972 fire that destroyed a federal records building and left many vets unable to prove their service and disabilities. He reapplied for benefits in the early 1980s, this time for skin conditions, which later included skin cancer related to exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide used extensively during the Vietnam War. While his claim for PTSD and hearing problems was accepted, it was denied for his chloracne (Agent Orange-related skin condition) and a knee injury. He gave up trying – until he met Spurlock through a mutual friend.

In 2007, Spurlock was given the power of attorney for Wehr’s VA claims. Spurlock has managed to pull together many of Wehr’s old records to justify claims; however, both men feel the VBA is impeding their efforts. Several of the letters to and from the VBA regarding Wehr’s claims are available at www.WillametteLive.com.

Veterans Service Center manager Kevin Kalama said claims for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure don’t require the same level of documentation as other service-related disabilities.

“We will presume he was exposed to Agent Orange because of where he was in Vietnam during that time,” he said. “If we can find a record that he stepped foot in Vietnam during that time period, it is presumed he had exposure.” Wehr said this has not been true with his case.

The most recent denial came when the VA claimed that Spurlock’s power of attorney privileges had ended, despite no paperwork showing a POA is appointed for a limited time.

“The VA is continuing to stonewall my claims any and every chance it gets without clear and legal justification,” Wehr said in a letter to the Veterans Affairs office in Portland dated June 15, 2009. “Meanwhile, I will be preparing to submit my entire file to Senator Wyden’s office and request a congressional investigation into this utter lack of professionalism and lack of attention to detail in this matter.”

Protecting Yourself

With the current deployments, Spurlock said troops need to take steps while in Iraq to reduce problems later.

“Keep a copy of all of your medical records,” he advised. “Any time you see a doctor for anything, you need to keep that. Don’t wait too long… and don’t be dismayed by any instant denial. That is just routine.”

Veterans should also research their own medical conditions and have the information on hand when talking to the VA.

“The biggest thing is not to give up,” Spurlock emphasized. “They will try to wear you down, but don’t let them.”

Making sure all medical records are available is crucial to avoid delays, McAleer acknowledged. Currently the VA is working with the Department of Defense for access to medical and personnel records. He said this will help veterans and the VBA to process claims more efficiently.

Although he couldn’t speak about any individual cases, he said Marcus must make every effort to go to a clinic and get screened for PTSD and any other ailments.

“We have a clinic in Salem,” he said. “We are trying to make it as easy as possible for our veterans to get the help and services they need.”

One of the biggest pieces of advice that was offered by McAleer is to file all the known claims at one time.

“The process can be really frustrating if you are doing it in bits and pieces,” he said.

He added that veterans should keep a call list of people they served with to verify claims if needed.

Despite efforts to treat returning troops, one thing is certain: many of these complexities are leading to tragic endings.

In 2008, the Army reported nearly 150 suicides within its ranks. Every military branch except the Coast Guard has seen an increase in suicide rates. However, steps are being taken to curb the rise.

Both the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, increasing mental-health assessments, and the Wounded Warriors Act, designed to help soldiers transitioning from active-duty to veteran status, are intended to aid active duty and returning soldiers. Studies are under way at the Madigan Army Medical Center near Fort Lewis, Wash., to assist in this effort.

This is little consolation for veterans who don’t have a desire to kill themselves, but simply want care for physical and mental injuries and benefits they were promised upon enlistment.

Marcus said his experience with the VA has left him soured and he doesn’t have any immediate plans to return. He admits he occasionally daydreams about refilling his antidepressants and taking them in a one-night alcohol-induced party for one.

He said he won’t do it, because “God doesn’t accept cowards who take the easy way out.”

In the back of his mind, he believes he’ll get help one day, or simply be cured by a miracle.

“I don’t know what may change, tomorrow or next year,” he said. “F*** the VA. I don’t need ’em. One of these days I’ll get my head straight and have a family. It’ll all be good.”

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