PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — After fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq — returning U.S. veterans are committing suicide in astounding numbers.
Just last month, veteran Michelle Langhorst of Plum shot herself in the parking lot of the VA in O’Hara and Iraq war veteran David Cranmer hung himself on a job site, where he was working in the North Hills.
An average of 22 veterans commit suicide in this country every day — and following our report — one congressman is demanding answers on whether we’re doing enough to help them.
“This is a national tragedy,” said Rep. Tim Murphy. “This is a national embarrassment.”
Tim Murphy wants to know if veterans with PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder — are getting the care they need and deserve. David Cranmer’s father — former Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer — says they are not.
“This casualty rate is unacceptable for people who aren’t actually at war,” said Cranmer. “These young people have come home, They’re trying to reintegrate back into society and they’re killing themselves.”
Cranmer says his son was diagnosed with PTSD after just one therapy session and his doctor prescribed the psychotropic drug Zoloft — a drug with an FDA warning that it can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Cranmer says his son received no other treatment and hung himself a month later.
“If they don’t have enough psychologists to deal with these young people, I’m not sure, but certainly the easy thing to do it to give them anti-depressants, cross your fingers and send them on their way,” said Cranmer.
A study by the Rand Corporation found that 53 percent of returning vets who have met the criteria for PTSD have sought help from the VA, but fewer than half have received the “minimally adequate treatment” — meaning at least eight therapy sessions a year. Locally, the VA says it does far better than that.
“There is a lot of empathy and care around suicide and I just wish desperately we knew more that we could do to prevent it,” said Dr. David Macpherson of the Pittsburgh VA.
Macpherson says in the Pittsburgh VA provides a wide spectrum of care, including outreach, extensive individual and group therapy and rigorous monitoring of vets’ prescribed meds. But while he feels they’ve been successful in thwarting some suicides, he is distressed when they’ve fallen short.
“We’ll continue to think about how to do this well,” said Macpherson, “support the research to try to understand it better and hopefully move forward.”
“As long as we lag on treatment, as long as it’s not coordinated, as long as we don’t have qualified providers giving it, we’re adding to their problem and making it tougher for them to face another battle at home,” said Murphy.
Congressman Murphy – who’s also a psychologist and says he’ll demand that the VA provide an account of the care they provide and if it does fall short, he will demand vets get the care they need.
“We’re going to demand that information from the VA, we want to know exactly what they do, how they follow through on those numbers, if they don’t have it — get it,” said Murphy. “If they do have it, tell us what it is so we can act on and provide whatever service that they do. But congress will push this, I’ll push this.”