Our economic tsunami is not only destroying our investments and many of our national employment centers, but it is also reaching down into our families and their children. Recently, a local family buried their son due to a heroin overdose. Based on other factors, his death was ruled a suicide. He was twenty-one.
JK was an ex-serviceman at the time of his death. He served a tour in Iraq. When he came home, he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He lost a lot of weight. He had a hard time coping with the horrific things he had witnessed on the battlefield.
While he was home, to compensate for his weight loss, JK used illegal steroids to get ready for a second deployment in Iraq. Due to that poor choice, he was discharged from the military with a less than honorable discharge. That circumstance pushed him further into depression.
JK s parents finally convinced him to seek mental health treatment at the VA Hospital in Northport. His condition worsened. His anxiety and depression intensified. He went into cardiac arrest due to a heroin overdose. His parents felt that this circumstance was his first suicide attempt.
After he recovered, he and his family though it best that he re-locate. He moved out of state to start anew. Unfortunately, he was still battling anxiety and depression. He continued to commute from out of state to Northport for counseling.
A few weeks ago, he had developed some other medical problems and sought treatment at a local VA hospital. He was told that due to his discharge status, he would have to pay for care. He panicked and thought he would not be eligible for his counseling services at the VA Hospital in Northport. He went home and allegedly overdosed on heroin. His bloated body was discovered a few days later. His parents felt that he had had enough and could not endure anymore.
Unfortunately, because of incompetence and incorrect information, a twenty-one year old took his own life.
However, there is so much more to JK s story. There are a growing number of GIs returning from the Middle East who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Clearly, they are not being afforded the appropriate care and supervision. Based on my limited contact with soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, I am deeply concerned about the training they receive before being deployed and what kind of mental health services and spiritual support is available to soldiers on the battlefield. My contacts say this is dangerously limited. There are not enough military mental health personnel to assist our men and women on the front lines.
No matter what our politics, we should support our courageous young men and women in uniformed service, especially those deployed in the Middle East. We should demand that our government take better care of preparing these young men and women for battle and take better care of them when they return. This is especially necessary for those who have been seriously wounded and crippled and those who have developed mental and emotional illnesses.
Our service men and women are not the only victims of inadequate mental health care. A growing number of people who have health insurance have inadequate and/or incompetent coverage for mental health and addiction issues. A growing number of young people have no insurance at all. If you qualify for Medicare, too often the bureaucracy can be life threatening.
Let me give you a painful illustration of how horrific the situation has become. JP was nineteen. He was a full time student at a local commuter college. He had a documented history of battling addiction since he was in junior high school. After his high school graduation, his marijuana use escalated into snorting heroin.
His parents found him in the early hours of a Saturday evening, passed out on his bedroom floor in his own vomit. They rushed him to the local hospital emergency room. They were able to revive and stabilize him. After an overnight stay, he was discharged with a clean physical bill of health. However, nurses strongly recommended treatment for his addiction issues.
JP went for an evaluation at a local clinic. They recommended in-patient care. JP resisted. He did agree to an intensive outpatient program that demanded a minimum of a six month commitment. After six days, he relapsed and was dismissed from treatment.
Needless to say, his parents were not happy. He swore that he would go to 12 step meetings a couple times a week and would not go to parties for the next six months. He was good at honoring his promise for about a week. By the seventh day, he was cheating and lying to his parents. Unfortunately, he was navigating through his lies in such a way that he convinced his parents he was doing the right thing.
He blew his cover the night his mother caught him snorting heroin in the family bathroom at 3:00am. She went ballistic. The next morning she said he had to go into residential treatment and that her insurance would pay for it.
The real challenge emerged. Where do you send a nineteen year old college student with a heroin addiction for long term residential treatment? The next problem was that her insurance company would not authorize residential treatment until he tried outpatient treatment and failed. He did fail, but the outpatient program was not licensed, although the staff that provided treatment were, and they did not charge. That was not acceptable.
As JP s parents fought with the insurance company over their ridiculous polices, JP again overdosed on heroin. They had it with their insurance company and decided to refinance their home to place JP in a long term, competent, residential treatment program. It has been three months. He is still there and has nine months to go.
What about the families that have children like JP but can t refinance their homes? What can they do?
Our economic tsunami is causing more and more treatment programs to close because insurance companies won t pay. Let the professionals who do treatment write the treatment plans, not the insurance companies.