DEPRESSION MED: 15 Year Old Hangs Himself: Illinois

FDA ‘black-box’ warning – In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began warning of an increased risk of suicidal thoughts among youths taking anti-depressants. In 2004, the agency required a new, more stringent label when antidepressants were prescribed to those under 18.

Between 2003-04 the youth suicide rate jumped 14 percent
– the steepest increase ever seen – while the number of antidepressant prescriptions for youths dramatically dropped during the same period: 20 percent for children 10 and under, 12 percent for 11-to-14-year-olds and 10 percent for 15-to-19-year-olds.

Paragraphs 29 & 30 read: “He stopped going to school and began attending an outpatient program, seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and taking medication for depression and anxiety. He tried returning to school on a half-day basis, but soon became overwhelmed with makeup work and inquiries from classmates who heard rumors he had tried to kill himself. After a few days in school, Iain asked to be readmitted to the hospital, where he stayed for a week, his parents said.”

“But as summer approached, he began showing signs of improvement. He was easier to communicate with, did his chores when asked and his doctors believed they had found the right balance in his medication, his father said.”

Paragraph 32 reads: “Lain’s parents and friends say they do not know of any incidents that might have triggered what happened June 3, when his father found him in the basement. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. He did not leave a note.”

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/07/05/20090705bullying.html

Bullied boy’s short life ends in suicide
Jul. 5, 2009 08:20 AM
Associated Press

CHICAGO – The bullying seemed inescapable.

His family and friends say it followed Iain Steele from junior high to high school
– from hallways, where one tormentor shoved him into lockers, to cyberspace, where another posted a video on Facebook making fun of his taste for heavy metal music.

“At one point, (a bully) had told (Iain) he wished he would kill himself,” said Matt Sikora, Iain’s close friend.

Iain’s parents know their son had other problems, but they believe the harassment contributed to a deepening depression that hospitalized the 15-year-old twice this year. On June 3, while his classmates were taking final exams, he went to the basement of his home and hanged himself with a belt.

His death stunned his quiet suburb west of Chicago and unleashed an outpouring of support for his parents, William and Liz, who say greater attention should be paid to bullying and its connection to mental health.

“No kid should be afraid for himself to go to school,” his father said. “It should be a safe environment where they can intellectually thrive. And he was, literally, just frightened to go to school, fearing what he would have to deal with on that day. And it was day after day.”

A school spokeswoman said she did not believe Iain was bullied. Police are investigating the allegations.

Nearly 30 percent of American children are bullied or are bullies themselves, according to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological and is repetitive, intentional and creates a perceived imbalance of power, said Dr. Joseph Wright, senior vice president at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.

Soon, the American Academy of Pediatrics will for the first time include a section on bullying in its official policy statement on the pediatrician’s role in preventing youth violence.

Wright, a lead author of the statement, said the decision to address the issue was due to a growing body of research over the last decade linking bullying to youth violence, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Last year, the Yale School of Medicine conducted analysis of the link between childhood bullying and suicide in 37 studies from 13 countries, finding both bullies and their victims were at high risk of contemplating suicide.

In March, the parents of a 17-year-old Ohio boy who committed suicide filed a lawsuit against his school alleging their son was bullied. Instead of seeking compensation, they are asking the school to put in place an anti-bullying program and to recognize their son’s death as a “bullicide.”

Iain Steele enjoyed riding his skateboard, his father said, but after hip surgery in 8th grade limited his mobility, he picked up the guitar and impressed an instructor with his musical talent.

He was revered by younger kids in the neighborhood, often fixing their skateboards, settling their disputes and including them in games. “He was a very gentle, kind kid, compassionate to a fault,” his father said. But Iain’s embrace of heavy metal set him apart from classmates. He let his hair grow to shoulder-length and wore mostly black clothing, including jeans with chains and T-shirts of heavy metal bands with dark, sometimes morbid lyrics.

For this, his classmates at McClure Junior High School often called him “emo” – a slang term for angst-ridden followers of a style of punk music, said Sikora, 15.

The bullying could also be physical, Iain’s friends and parents said. In 8th grade at McClure, one bully pushed Iain into a locker while he was on crutches and accused him of faking an injury to get out of gym class. Iain rarely shied away from his tormentors, however, and in this case, he punched the bully in the jaw, his father said.

“He was mainly bullied only because he was different, or hurt, or stupid things like that,” said Sikora. “He never bothered anybody. … It was all just because he was different and an easy target.”

William Steele said his son had trouble ignoring the bullying because it “was just sort of relentless.” It got to the point where the father sat down with the principal at McClure and with a bully’s mother. But the harassment did not subside.

Steele said, “(Iain) had a real trust issue because he felt like, particularly at McClure, the system let him down, that it didn’t deliver on its promise to protect him from bullying.”

McClure Principal Dan Chick said in an e-mail “the District 101 community is deeply saddened by this recent tragedy of losing one of our children.” Chick said he takes bullying very seriously but declined to discuss details of Iain’s case because of privacy issues.

“As with all situations, I investigated this specific matter and took appropriate actions within the limits of my authority,” Chick said.

After graduating from McClure in 2008, Iain began attending the south campus for freshmen and sophomores at Lyons Township High School, where he found new friends – and new tormentors. A new bully emerged who at first acted friendly but then posted a homemade video on Facebook pretending to be Iain playing heavy metal on guitar.

“It was like a public humiliation to (Iain),” Sikora said.

The family of the student did not respond to requests for comment.

Jennifer Bialobok, a spokeswoman for Lyons Township High School, said “bullying is obviously not tolerated at LT,” but added, “I don’t think we’re naive enough to think that bullying behavior doesn’t exist.”

Two years ago, Lyons Township created a “speak up line” in which students can anonymously report “inappropriate or unsafe behavior,” and the school hangs posters defining bullying and explaining how to report it, Bialobok said. If any student reported being bullied, a thorough investigation would take place, with consequences ranging from parental notification to out-of-school suspension, she said.

Bialobok said she could not discuss Iain’s case because of student privacy laws, but, “we don’t believe that bullying was an issue while Iain was attending LT. Counselors and a host of other support personnel worked routinely to make his experience at LT a positive one.”

Local police have not documented incidents of bullying involving Iain but are still conducting interviews, Deputy Chief Brian Budds said.

By this winter, Iain’s mental health had begun a downward spiral, his parents said. In February, he told them he was having suicidal thoughts and asked to be admitted to the hospital.

He stopped going to school and began attending an outpatient program, seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and taking medication for depression and anxiety. He tried returning to school on a half-day basis, but soon became overwhelmed with makeup work and inquiries from classmates who heard rumors he had tried to kill himself. After a few days in school, Iain asked to be readmitted to the hospital, where he stayed for a week, his parents said.

But as summer approached, he began showing signs of improvement. He was easier to communicate with, did his chores when asked and his doctors believed they had found the right balance in his medication, his father said.

“He seemed to be in a calm, happy place,” he said.

Iain’s parents and friends say they do not know of any incidents that might have triggered what happened June 3, when his father found him in the basement. His death was ruled a suicide by hanging, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. He did not leave a note.

Looking back, Iain’s parents wonder what factors besides bullying may have contributed to their son’s depression.

Iain’s favorite heavy metal bands, such as Lamb of God and Children of Bodem and Bullet for My Valentine, often have lyrics with dark messages. One Bullet for My Valentine song is about being bullied, and another song contains the refrain: “The only way out is to die.”

Also, Iain was deeply hurt this spring after a brief relationship with a girl he met in his outpatient program. The two exchanged text messages, but her parents and therapists advised against them dating and about two months ago barred her from having communication with him.

Still, Iain’s parents remain convinced bullying played a significant role in their son’s depression. As Iain’s story spread through the community, many people approached Liz Steele to describe their own experiences with bullying, depression or suicide, she said.

“A lot of people don’t want to talk about mental health or bullying because it’s a difficult thing to talk about, but we need to talk about it,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a stigma.”

Meanwhile, the community has rallied behind the Steeles. In Iain’s memory, his classmates tied white ribbons around hundreds of trees in the neighborhood. On June 10, about 500 people attended a memorial service at First Congregational Church of Western Springs.

Rich Kirchherr, senior minister at the church, said the community has felt a “deep and abiding sadness” since Iain’s death. Kirchherr said few people seemed aware that Iain was bullied.

“There is an acknowledgment now, as people have discovered that Iain might not always have been treated with the respect that every person deserves,” Kirchherr said. “Many people were surprised to hear that.”

Friends have established several Facebook groups in his memory, including the “Iain Steele Remembrance Group,” which has more than 700 members. The commentary on the group’s wall was summed up by a Lyons Township High School student who said she did not know Iain but had learned an important lesson from his death.

“I’m learning to treat everyone with respect, even people who I don’t know well or people who I might not get along with,” she wrote. “If there is anything good that can come out of this tragedy, the responsibility lies with us to live with kindness and be aware that life is fragile.”

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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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