On Sunday, The Seattle Times ran a front-page expose about veterans who are being denied health-care benefits. Reported in collaboration with public radio's Northwest News Network, the piece showed how a soldier's indiscretion, often drug or alcohol abuse, can have big consequences. It's a noteworthy story, which is why Seattle Weekly also delved into the matter four years ago.
From SW's 2008 story:
Extensive scientific literature, dating back years, points to the relationship between PTSD, substance abuse, and other behavioral problems. Dr. Andrew Saxon, director of the addiction program at VA Puget Sound, points to one 1987 study in The New England Journal of Medicine which found that men with PTSD, including Vietnam veterans, were five times as likely to abuse drugs as others, and nearly twice as likely to be alcoholics. Describing the classic PTSD symptoms, he says those afflicted might have "unpleasant, unbidden memories, they might have nightmares, their heart might start to race, or they might react physiologically and physically to something in the environment like loud noises. You can imagine if you have those symptoms, it's easy to reach for alcohol or obtain other drugs that temporarily help you cope."
Captain Robert Koffman, acting director of psychological health for Navy Medicine, affirms that PTSD often brings with it other medical disorders like substance abuse. "Self-medication is typically what we see," he says.
So it's not just that these soldiers are being denied benefits; they're being denied health care needed to deal with problems they may have because of their service in the military. This is galling to some military observes, like Colby Vokey, a retired lieutenant colonel who once supervised Marine Corps defense attorneys along the West Coast.
Vokey told SW: "We send the soldier to Iraq. We break him. We have an obligation, at least, to fix him."
The Seattle Times and the Northwest News Network brought home the impact that not doing so can have. They found one veteran who camped out in the woods after being denied care from a Veterans Affairs facility. He was grappling with PTSD, drug abuse and suicidal tendencies.
Another compelling case was that of a sergeant denied benefits despite winning a Bronze Star for his bravery. The case recalled a soldier we profiled, Mark Siegel. He was kicked out of the military, his benefits thrown up in the air, despite receiving a Purple Heart for injuries suffered during an IED explosion.