Investigative Journalist, Barry R. Clausen
February 14, 2012
For the second time in the last six years the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is attempting to cut Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Veterans mental health services. In July of 2006 there were many negative stories written about the treatment of Veterans in Redding, California through the Redding VA outpatient clinic. There was a demonstration held on July 10th where almost 200 Veterans protested on the street in front of the Redding clinic. At that time there were many Veterans who chose not to protest for fear of retaliation by the VA who were worried about pending cuts to their mental health services.
At the demonstration there were also numerous uniformed VA Police protecting the clinic from Veterans; some in wheelchairs, some using walkers and some with dangerous canes. The VA undercover police attempted to mix among the demonstrators while taking photos of the protestors until they were caught and forced to retreat to the clinic by the overwhelming pressure of disabled Veterans.
Henry Iasiello, Vietnam Veterans of America, CA State Counsel Northern CA District PTSD Committee Chair referenced VA Practitioner Dr. Greg Nelson in a June 30, 2006 letter to then Redding Clinic Director Linda Nelson. Iasiello states, “ … I would like to reiterate that in my conversation with Dr. Greg Nelson about the reviews and cutbacks at the Redding Clinic he assured me that money was not the issue. His concern was that extended fee-basis [out of clinic care], especially as regards PTSD, did not serve the Veteran. That in fact, he believes, many also are just ‘scamming’ the system. It was, I admit, a little disheartening to hear him characterize the Clinic as practicing ‘frontier medicine’ and PTSD as an ‘overused’ diagnosis…”
In 2006 when I interviewed Dr. Nelson he told me, “If veterans want to see an outside practitioner they can pay for it themselves.” And when the VA decided to cut Veteran’s services many Veterans wrote letters to the VA condemning Dr. Nelson for his statements to them when he told them, “there is no such thing as PTSD.”
On June 16, 2006 Congressman Wally Herger wrote a letter to Jim Nickelson, then the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in support of area Veterans in response to the VA’s attempt to cut mental health services at that time. In that letter Herger stated, “Several veterans in my district have informed me that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs clinic in Redding, California has recently added staff to provide psychological treatment and counseling for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They have expressed several concerns….
“I understand that the VA policy is generally to provide services by VA staff when possible, and to pay private providers on a fee basis only when the VA does not have sufficient, or sufficient specialized, staff. While I understand the underlying rational for this policy generally – to prevent unnecessary duplication of services – I am not convinced that it makes sense to treat counseling and psychological services the same way as other medical service. The relationship between patient and counselor is a very personal and sensitive one, and it is very difficult for a veteran with PTSD who has been treated by one counselor for many years to switch suddenly to an entirely new counselor.
“Therefore, while I agree that in many cases it makes sense for the VA not to pay for services from an outside provider if the same services can be provided by the VA itself, I would urge you to consider the needs of veterans who have a long history of being treated by a single counselor or psychologist. In my view, it seems reasonable for the VA to consider “grandfathering” this small number of veterans so they can continue to get treatment from their established counselors on a fee basis, while any new patients would be automatically referred to the VA staff.
“I would appreciate your review and consideration of the concerns that my constituents have raised, along with a response that outlines the Department’s views on the provision of counseling services and whether VA policy does or could be adjusted to provide for the implementation of a grandfather policy for veterans already being treated for PTSD.”
After all the negative press, the demonstration and the help from Congressman Herger the VA reconsidered. Now in 2012 there is a new frontal assault by the VA and the new offender in the exact same PTSD quandary is Dr. Brian O’Neil, of the VA in Mather California. O’Neil is Dr. Nelson’s superior and apparently this time Nelson is following O’Neil’s orders. When asking for an interview, O’Neil’s secretary Lynda Duncan denied contact with O’Neil indicating that O’Neil did not give interviews.
There are currently about 300 California Veterans once again facing the same challenges from the VA as they did in 2006. These military Veterans have been diagnosed by the VA as Service-Connected for PTSD for Combat, Non-Combat and Military Sexual Trauma (MST) incidents. Some are currently receiving denials of authorization for their ongoing and continued individual psychotherapeutic sessions. As one Veteran stated, “PTSD is not like a cold or the flu, it does not go away, it is with you for the rest of your life. I have had dreams about the carnage and blood for over 40 years.”
According to what I have been told, the local VA has now 15 mental health professionals within the clinic. It should be noted that apparently this is not a national program instituted by the VA, and there is no one willing to step up to explain why this is happening just in Northern California. One Veteran’s question is, “As this is just happening in Northern California could we be the testing grounds to see what the VA can get away with nationally in the future?”
Shasta County Veterans have dealt with the threats and rumors of cuts in services for several months and the not knowing is creating additional anger, frustration and mental anguish because as of this date, they have not been given any answers to any of their questions with regard to their continuity of care. In addition some Veterans are currently been denied access to their fee basis practitioners without any notification from what appears to be cowardly VA officials who would rather leave notification to practitioners, rather than face the Veterans who’s lives they are wantonly and unnecessarily altering by their actions.
Many of these service-connected military Veterans suffer from very specific conditions that do not lend themselves to sudden and/or dramatic changes in their mental health treatment. This includes changes to their mental health care provider with whom the Veteran has developed a sound and trusting relationship.
Nearly all mental health clinicians agree that providing psychotherapeutic services is unique, in that, a therapeutic alliance is established between the patient and their counselor, as briefly referenced above. In most cases the Veteran has made disclosures that he or she has not shared with another human being. This is particularly typical in the PTSD and MST afflicted military Veteran; and because this is the case, this is why all psychotherapists’ licensing and professional boards deem it an ethical violation to abandon a patient. To withdraw ongoing, stable and successful counseling from a patient would constitute ethics violations of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the California Psychiatric Association.
Most alarming however could be the sudden and potentially violent reactions from some Military Veterans suffering from both PTSD and MST or the potential for the Veteran to regress to former states of dysfunction. One female Veteran who has been rated as 100% service connected for both PTSD & MST confided, "I used to hide in the closet when my phone would ring. I have come so far and now I may loose the ground I have gained so a bean counter can congratulate himself. Dear God, I just can’t start over and go back to that dark place! I am just sick at the prospect."
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In an attempt to find the truth, on February 9th and 10th of 2012, fourteen calls were made to the VA Headquarters in Washington D.C. with no results. Numerous calls went to VA Client Services (866) 341 0743, VA Media (202) 461 7600, VA Fee Basis Services (202) 745 2473 and in addition calls went to VA facilities in Mather & Martinez, CA.. All calls were either a recorded message, or whoever answered did not know what I was talking about, or would not discuss the issue. It was the call to the VA Northern California Health Care System, Mare Island Outpatient Clinic, Site Manager's Office in Vallejo, CA (707) 562-8204 that a very polite lady Veteran’s Advocate listened to my questions. She did not know about any cuts in services, however she did respond by sending me a complaint form by Email. Finally, a call to Dr. O’Neil’s office (916) 843 9058 also resulted in a negative response.
Information on the VA PTSD programs can be found here.
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© 2012 Barry R. Clausen - All Rights Reserved
Mr. Clausen has been a guest on over 250 U.S. and Canadian radio talk shows and TV news shows including ABC, CBS, NBC and repeatedly on FOX News. He has been featured or quoted in over 800 books, magazines and news articles including the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Vancouver Province, Canada’s B.C. Report, New York Times, Newsday, Seattle Times, Oregonian, Sacramento Bee, Christian Science Monitor, The Dallas Morning News and a lengthy article beginning on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Clausen’s information has been translated and used by publications in many foreign countries including Japan, Ireland, England, Turkey, Germany, France and Chile. In 1994, a film crew from Danish TV-2 flew to Seattle to interview Mr. Clausen for a television documentary about international and U.S. extremist organizations. The documentary, A MAN IN THE RAINBOW, was subsequently aired in several European countries.
His latest book "Burning Rage - The Growing Anger Within My Country," will be updated and available on Amazon.com early this spring.