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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/30/10

Human Rights Law and Returning Veterans

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Janet Parker
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Medical Whistleblower is an advocacy network, providing information and support to those who report medical fraud, patient abuse and neglect and human rights violations. In 2009 Dr. Janet Parker DVM, Executive Director of Medical Whistleblower, brought a shadow report to the United Nations in Geneva to report that there was not adequate protection for those who report human rights abuses. Medical Whistleblower is dedicated for those who cannot speak for themselves, the vulnerable in society and to those who are Medical Whistleblowers and the Defenders of Human Rights.

It is hard to personally face the mind wrenching trauma of war. When veterans return from combat to their families and their communities, those adaptations that made them effective in a wartime environment are no longer effective and can be detrimental to full inclusion into their communities. Our combat veterans may not perceive themselves as vulnerable, however Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can make the most fearsome warrior vulnerable.

One essential aspect of PTSD trauma is the exposure of the person to events which were life-threatening and over which the individual had no control. So treatment for PTSD must include the right to have control over the choice of treatment options. Giving the PTSD patient this control is very empowering for them. Supportive services should include all viable treatment options, especially non drug therapies proven over years of professional assessment by the Veterans Administration to be viable treatments for PTSD such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR.

Medication side effects are the #4 leading cause of death in the U.S. annually (JAMA 1998). Yet, few people receive adequate information when medication is prescribed. Veterans have the right to make informed, intelligent choices about medications and natural alternatives to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of treatment. There are effective treatment strategies for PTSD that do not use drug therapy. Cognitive Behavioral therapy and EMDR have both proven effective treatment for PTSD. Veterans and their families should have social support services that are independent of Pharmaceutical Company pressure and financing. Veterans have the right to informed choice of care and should be given all options including non drug options. Veterans have the right to have dedicated experienced peer counselors who understand their needs and relate well to them in a personal way. Veterans have the right to have strong advocates working for them to get answers and to be a part of the decision making process at the Veteran's Administration.

Many veterans are understandably fearful of the new drug therapies especially if they read the reports of adverse side effects or have themselves experienced these negative effects themselves. But this should not mean that our veterans do not get care. We should be in the habit of providing care and support in a manner that takes into account the needs and social preferences of the individual veteran, not a one pill fits all mentality. Many veterans are now refusing to engage with social services because of the fear of the drug treatment being forced on them; instead they face divorce, lost of family, loss of employment and eventually homelessness where they live on the street, in tent cities and under bridges.

The homeless problem facing our veterans is a human rights issue. Those who have served our country deserve better care upon return to their communities than they are currently receiving. It is a shocking statistic that about one-third of the adult homeless population has served their country in the Armed Services. Approximately 131,000 Veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other Veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions in cheap hotels or in overcrowded or substandard housing. Right now, the number of homeless male and female Vietnam era Veterans is greater than the number of service persons who died during that war -- and Desert Storm and now the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are also appearing in the homeless population. It is inconceivable that PTSD is not related to the realities of facing life in a combat zone.

The Pharmaceutical Industry wants to use the returning veterans as a huge potential pharmaceutical drug customer base. With the US government picking up the tab, the Pharmaceutical companies are lobbying heavily to increase their expected profits from the sales of drugs for PTSD sufferers. The huge numbers of returning veterans are a prime target of their sales efforts. Big Pharma pours lots of money into the political campaigns of those who support their agenda. The Big Pharmaceutical Companies have persons on the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health that are pushing to do wholesale marketing of SSRI's and other mind altering drugs to veterans with PTSD.

When SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft were first introduced in the late 1980's and early 1990's there were reports of increasing violent behavior including suicide and homicide. There were in 2003 reports by British authorities and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about unpublished studies showing an increased risk of suicide in children and teenagers taking Paxil. Prior reports of suicidal and homicidal acts in adults taking SSRIs have been minimized by the pharmaceutical company defenders and mainstream doctors, who claim that suicide is common in depression anyway.

The recent violence Nov. 5, 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas in which a military psychiatrist shot and killed 13 people and wounded 30 others gives us good reason to reconsider these psychiatric drug treatments for military personnel and veterans. This incident reminded me of the Northern Illinois University mass shootings where former grad student Stephen Kazmierczak killed 5 students and wounding dozens of others before committing suicide himself. This gunman had been taking the drug Paxil prior to his mass killings. The drug manufacturer had been deliberately withholding information about violent behavior as an adverse effect of the medication. See the insightful article by Drs. Healy, Herxhiemer and Menkes on Antidepressants and Violence: Problems at the interface with medicine and law. Now the drug Paxil carries a black box warning about homicide and suicide.

Sept 14, 2004, an FDA panel voted 18 to 5 to require manufacturers of all antidepressants to add black box warnings to their product labeling. A month later, the FDA adopted the panel's recommendations. The warning reads in part:

"Antidepressants increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in short-term studies in children and adolescents with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of [Drug Name] or any other antidepressant in a child or adolescent must balance this risk with the clinical need. Patients who are started on therapy should be observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior."

The warning specifically links antidepressant use to suicidal behavior in four percent of kids on these drugs compared to two percent for kids on placebos.

Although it is true that no type of antidepressant is helpful in every clinical case, it is also true that SSRIs can create a unique combination of side effects that may severely impair judgment and impulse control in individual patients. Excessive doses of antidepressants can cause brain dysfunctions including disorientation, confusion, and cognitive disturbances. In combat veterans suffering PTSD, impulsive behavior, especially if coupled with impaired cognitive functioning, can be dangerous. Antidepressants can also trigger similar, manic-like symptoms in people whose depression is part of a manic-depressive syndrome, which often gets overlooked when people are given SSRIs.

NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness is not a consumer run organization although it is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization with tax exempt status. NAMI gets 56% of its financial funding directly from the Pharmaceutical Industry. NAMI provides to the public educational information about psychiatric drugs. This information does not include the potential severe side effects of some of these drugs such as suicide and homicide. NAMI has been reaching out to veteran's spouses and families at battered women's shelters, domestic violence counseling centers and other similar social support systems to try to get the families to pressure veterans to stay on these medications, even when there are significant adverse side effects. This in pharmaceutical industry talk is called customer compliance and customer retention. NAMI because of its dependence on Pharmaceutical Industry funding refuses to give accurate information about adverse side effects to veteran's families and pushes for high drug doses that will increase pharmaceutical company profits. They also push for lifelong therapy when that may not be necessary. The direct result of interfering with the right of patients and their families to have accurate information increases the possibility of family violence. Often what would be best for the patient would be a decrease in dosage or even a change in medication or in some cases going off medication and a loss of a drug using consumer.

Medical Whistleblower wants all veterans to know that on July 30, 2010 the President of the United States Barack Obama signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which is a international treaty defining the rights of persons with disabilities under international human rights law. Although not yet ratified, it is the first international treaty on disability rights. All disabled veterans including those with PTSD should have their Human Rights honored. I ask you as advocates for the returning veterans to look carefully at the treaty that the President signed. It contains strong language that protects the rights of our vulnerable disabled veterans. Please join me in encouraging the ratification of the CRPD. Do this for all the veterans you know who have served their country honorably and deserve to have their human rights protected. Please acquaint yourself with the excellent work of Theresia Degener in regards to the rights of those with a mental health disability. Please note these relevant sections of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

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Medical Whistleblower is an organization dedicated to advocacy and emotional support for those who have bravely stepped forward to "Tell Truth to Power" to the Medical Establishment. Medical Whistleblowers report Medical Fraud, Abuse and (more...)

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