Local veterans share stories of depression, struggles

Published: Nov. 5, 2017 at 6:15 PM CST
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Tisha Duncan says her father, Randy Whitman, received no help from the federal government when he needed it the most.

"The VA just kept sending him more prescriptions through the mail," said Duncan. "He attempted suicide in January by taking all the pills. After that he was prescribed more medications that made him depressed."

On March 3, Duncan found her father's body inside his Brazos County home. The 67-year-old Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War used a handgun to take his own life.

"Three weeks after his death, the prescriptions were still coming to his home in the mail," said Duncan.

A study released in 2016 revealed an average of 20 veterans die from suicide each day, and 6 of the 20 were users of VA services.

Chuck Clark, a veteran Marine living in College Station, shares similar struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He claims it took 7 years for VA doctors to diagnose him with a mild traumatic brain injury, and his treatment has been nothing more than a plethora of paperwork and pills.

"It's a lot faster to get treatment in Bryan and College Station through a civilian doctor than it is through the government system. Especially the VA," said Clark.

Clark and his family recently sat down with News 3's Rusty Surette to detail their long fight with the VA to receive appropriate care. Meanwhile, Clark continues to suffer both physically and mentally.

"You try to be the husband and father that you want to be, but you can't and it sucks," said Clark. "You get so down on yourself that you do start to think if you want to be here anymore."

In 2014, Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults, while Veterans constituted 8.5% of the US population.

So, what's being done to help stop these suicides?

In February, President Donald Trump named David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The two have been aggressive in making improvements to the system, including the authorization of emergency mental health services and policy changes to ensure VA employees are held accountable for their actions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently released a 1-5 grading scale for each of its hospitals. Three hospitals in Texas received the lowest score possible.

There's also new research and treatment underway at facilities across the country. In Waco, a new facility opened this year focusing on PTSD and brain trauma in veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Researchers will look at three main areas of interest: neurological, biological, and psychological.Some of the staff includes students from Texas A&M.

Reaching veterans in rural areas through telehealth services are another high priority for the current administration. The VA has established four regional telemental health hubs across the VA healthcare system, but lawmakers say one of the biggest challenges they have is finding qualified mental health specialists.

Implementing these changes and strategies will be key in saving lives, and while the Clark family is pleased to hear improvements are being made, they remain skeptical.

"It's a broken system. Capitol Hill should not be just debating the issue. They should come together as one. It's one country. It's not democrat. Not Republican. It's the United States of America," said Clark.

The 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line provides immediate access to mental health crisis intervention and support. Veterans call the national suicide prevention hotline number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and then “Press 1” to reach highly skilled responders trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention. VCL also includes a chat service and texting option.

Since the establishment of the VCL through May 2016 the VCL has answered over 2.3 million calls, made over 289,000 chat connections, and over 55,000 texts.