Recently, an intense investigation by the Department of Defense was done at Madigan Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord located in Tacoma, Washington. The probe was centered on a couple of doctors who were downgrading soldier’s and veteran’s P.T.S.D. diagnoses who were receiving medical treatment, which would in turn cause a lowering of their VA disability ratings and benefits. As a result of the investigation, Pentagon officials have released reports in which they strongly encourage doctors working with veterans who have P.T.S.D. to focus more on therapy and less on medication, one class in particular, the benzodiazepines, for which ‘risks exceed benefits.’
What drugs fall into the benzodiazepine category previously used on a regular basis with soldiers and veterans? One of the most common is a sleeping pill called Klonopin.
I take you now to an excerpt from my novel “Off Switch,” to explain a little more on Klonopin. Mind you, this novel was written during the same time frame that the D.O.D. investigation was ongoing. This author had not the benefit of big brass from the Pentagon investigating at Madigan, rather, was only drawing from his own experiences. Ironically, six months’ worth of those experiences came while incarcerated, rather, while stationed at the Warriors in Transition Battalion on Fort Lewis, where I received all of my medical treatment at Madigan Medical Center. I’m marking out some of the foul language in this excerpt for the purposes of posting it on the internet, but the excerpt has not been altered in any other way. This novel is graphic, in that it has adult language and content, but only because there was no way to otherwise write about such a serious issue as soldier and veteran suicide. This issue cannot be sugarcoated.
Excerpt taken from Chapter 3 of “Off Switch”
*Note- Jennifer Hutton is a VA counselor, and Corey Prine is a 28 year old veteran recently returned from Iraq
*Meeting between Jennifer Hutton and Corey Prine at Beckley VA Medical Center October 9, 2009
“So, how are we today, Corey?”
“This part of we is good. How is your part of we?”
“Got me again,” she said, laughing. “Seriously, how ya doing?”
She tried to say ‘ya’ as much as she could rather than the ‘you’ she had been saying all those years before moving to Appalachia. When in Rome…
“I’m good, I guess,” he said, not so guarded as the first time they’d met.
“What do you mean,‘you guess?’”
“I’m tired a lot,” he said. “I can’t sleep at night.”
“I saw in your records that you have filed a claim for tinnitus. Does the ringing in your ears keep you up?”
He was quiet for a long, slow three count. “Not really.”
“Corey,” she said, drawing out the last syllable of his name as if he were a kid caught in the cookie jar. “Tell me what ‘not really’ means. This isn’t my first day on the job,ya know.”
Good Jen, she thought. Another ‘ya.’
“Well,” he said, hesitating. “I hear shi# that’s not there.”
“Gun shots, explosions. That kinda stuff.”
“You told me about the small arms fire and the road side bombs in Iraq, Corey. Was there anything else? Car bombs? Mortars?”
“Oh hel# yeah,” he said, becoming adamant. “Hel#, we got mortared every da# day. We worked at night see, because there was a curfew on the locals. They weren’t allowed to drive between ten p.m. and four a.m. That helped us minimize the threat of SVBIEDS (suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices- in English, car bombs). So when we were trying to sleep during the day, they mortared the shi# out of us. God, it was hard to sleep.”
“So was it like that all year? You couldn’t get any sleep?”
“No, not really. I mean, the mortars were there all year, but after a month or so we started sleeping.”
“Just got used to the noise, huh?”
“Oh no,” he said. “You can never get used to that. We’d just all go over to see Dr. Feelgood.”
“And who was Dr. Feelgood?” Kid in the cookie jar again.
“Oh, he was one of many people. Some doctors that couldn’t make it in private practice. These guys join the Army as Lieutenant Colonels and for a big sign-on bonus, and then hand out drugs in Iraq and Afghanistan like candy. We’d go there for sleeping pills, and they worked.”
“Do you remember the name of these sleeping pills?”
“Oh yeah. Klonopin. Still have some left over.”
‘Oh shi#! Klonopin!’ is what she thought, but what she said was, “Oh, Klonopin. Have you taken any since you’ve been back? On the nights you can’t sleep?”
“Oh hel# no!”
Oh thank God! she thought.
“And why not?” she said. “Does it not work for you anymore?”
“Oh it works. The shi#’s like a horse tranquilizer. I mean it knocks you the fu## out! But man, I’ve never had a hangover from a night out like that shi# gives me. Not that it was a strong hangover, it just lasted all day. Till I took more Klonopin. And when I got off the stuff? Oh my God, what a trip that was!”
“I’m glad you’re not taking that anymore, Corey. I’m not a big fan of meds myself. That’s why I’ve not pushed myself for the med degree and the ability to prescribe, but there are definitely some meds that are worse than others, and Klonopin is about as bad as they get in the sleeping pills category.”
“Then why do they give it to us in theater?”
“Why do you think? You’re a smart guy.”
“Because it works and it’s cheap? Just like everything else the Army uses. The contract always goes to the lowest bidder?”
“You said it, not me,” she said. “The VA’s not too far removed from the D.O.D. when you start bad mouthing big brother, so there is only so much I can say. That’s why I love working with you. You are smart enough to read between the lines.”
There you, I mean, ‘ya’ go Jen, she thought. Compliment, compliment, compliment. God this job is too much like sales.
“Well, I know I’d rather fight insomnia than deal with that devil again,” he said.
Koodos to fictitious character Jennifer Hutton, for her forsight on understanding the effects Klonopin has on our vets before the D.O.D. completed their study, based soley on the experiences and imagination of Corey Prine’s fellow hillbilly- this guy! What was I saying in my last article, “Sequestration- Say What?” Something about how big government loves to spend money that probably isn’t necessarily needed to be spent?
Anyway, let’s not just take Jennifer Hutton’s word for it. Let’s have one more excerpt, this one from perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, Dr. Jerry Barnes, writing in one of his many (yet fictitious) journals.
Excerpt II from “Off Switch”
### From ‘PTSD Nation – The New ‘ism for a New Generation’ (pp. 18-19) by Jerry Barnes, Ph.D., Ed.D., former M.D.
“And now, Good Reader, we come to the section on drugs. Rather, one of many sections on drugs, for these magical entities are being used in full force both on the battle field during deployment and here at home upon the service member’s return.
Let’s look at the first group, one that is arguably necessary in theater to allow our troops to ‘continue the mission.’
The sleeping pills!
One can imagine that in an environment of high stress, both physical and psychological, one may have trouble sleeping. Add together the already irregular sleep hours and patterns, constant explosions and irregular schedules, and Voila! Sleeping pills!
What pills and in what amounts are being used? How many soldiers are taking them?
Believe it or not, as of the writing of this manuscript, it turns out that the data needed to reach any solid conclusions about actual, clear use of pharmaceuticals among the ranks of our military isn’t available. The military doesn’t keep tabs on the drugs its troops take, though it is estimated that the number of active military personnel (this does not even include guard and reserve members on active orders also taking drugs) has surpassed 100,000.
Now, is the lack of record keeping a simple oversight? Or is there something more ominous at work behind the reasons as to why these records are not kept?
One sleeping agent that we know is being used in full force, as reported directly from returning troops themselves, is a drug called Klonopin. Klonopin is a very effective, yet highly hallucinogenic drug that gives the user the sleep they need, but one hel# of a hangover and some ‘far out and groovy trips, man’ when they come off of the drug.
Soldiers in both theaters in the Middle East have reported waking up at times, not knowing exactly where on God’s green earth they are, and why it is they are there. Fear not for their safety too much, Good Reader, for although they are oblivious to their surroundings, they are heavily armed with enough fire power to take out any threat, be it real or perceived, civilian or military, in sight.
Now, of course I say this tongue in cheek, but alas, it is a cold hard fact that these young men and women are waking up in states in which they would certainly serve jail time back here at home if they were ever to operate a motor vehicle on the public roads in such state.
But not to worry, Good Reader, because they aren’t here driving those little Japanese imports that might weigh as much as a standard refrigerator.
They are far, far away, driving 70,000 pound up-armored gun trucks with enough munitions inside to take out a city.
I won’t be as smug at this time to say, “I told you so,” but I will say that fictional characters Jennifer Hutton and Dr. Jerry Barnes told you so!
Kevin E Lake is an Iraq War veteran and author of the book “Off Switch,” written to raise awareness of the soldier and veteran suicide epidemic in the U.S. and is available on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Off-Switch-ebook/dp/B009Q3MSK2/
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