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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Done Dealing With Death Alone

Dr. Mark Pollack can’t find patients. His psychiatric division at MGH, devoted to treating anxiety and traumatic stress disorders among Veterans, has the advertising power of the Boston Red Sox behind them and several hefty subsidies, but Veterans still seek help for brain injuries at the VA.

“We’ve run adds, and been on TV and in the newspapers, but we’ve had very limited response. So what I want to find out here is what can we do to reach veterans better,” Pollack said in a round table meeting with Veterans at UMB last week.

In early September the Secretary of Veterans Affairs joined The Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to create Home Base—a unique initiative focused on helping Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and their families. But the limited response to the new program has people like Pollack out gathering ideas from veterans and recruiting patients.

One potential candidate, Michael Lydon, a UMB student who suffers from severe PTSD and a TBI from an encounter he had with an IED in Iraq, said VA treatments were sub par and did not help him at first.

“I wasn’t sleeping at night. And between that and anxiety during the day, it was really bad . . . [At the VA] they just overload you with drugs,” Lydon said.

Because of discordant bureaucratic practices at the VA, many veterans complain that it does not function as effectively as most hospitals. Lydon described some common military treatment procedures.

“I don’t think the treatment they give is as individually tailored. It’s more like a blanket treatment. Like if a twenty five year old male comes in showing signs of PTSD they have this certain procedure to go through,” he said.

They sent Lydon through a regiment of medications and a series of different treatments and therapies including group counseling, which he said was completely ineffective. Every time he went he was talking with a different group of people and different doctors.

“I’d get bounced around from doctor to doctor. And every time you’ve got to explain everything you already went over again. It was redundant. But once I started treatment and started really getting into it, it helped,” he said.

The personal touch that is often lacking at the VA is not necessarily the doctor’s fault, Ken Isaksen a former marine and the Director of OIF/OEF Veterans of Massachusetts, said at the round table meeting. The procedures are the issue, and the practice of pairing VA psychiatrists with random patients leads to ineffective follow up appointments.

“The VA is quick to doll out meds, and they give out pretty high doses. So people become dependant on their medication and they don’t get proper treatment. It’s a vicious cycle in that way. Someone who comes in with PTSD or a personality disorder needs weekly meetings not just meds and one follow up,” Isaksen said.

In Isaksen’s opinion the more options available to Veterans the better, and getting the information to other Veterans about VA alternatives takes time.

“A lot of guys go to the VA just because it’s there. For Vets, referrals are important. We’re a tight nit community and that’s the only way you’re going to get a lot of people to come,” said Isaksen.The Home Base Program is not trying to replace the VA as far as psychiatric care goes, but there is a need for more options, Pollack pointed out. With wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan still going on more and more Veterans are flooding back to the US with brain injuries.

“We’re trying to provide an alternative to the VA for people who don’t want to go there. We understand that the VA does a lot of things for people, but we want to provide other options,” Pollack said.

To find out more about the Home Base Program visit homebaseprogram.org.

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010