Veteran Says Phoenix Story Saved His Life

march 13, 2009  12:09 pm


Peter Kadzis
executive editor
Phoenix Media/Communications Group

Jeff Inglis
managing editor
Portland Phoenix
207.773.8900 x108

A Marine Corps veteran who has been struggling with mental-health issues and fighting the federal Veterans Affairs Department for more than a decade, has credited a story published in the current Boston, Portland, and Providence editions of the Phoenix Newspaper Group weeklies with saving his life.

The story, called "Soldiers Committing Suicide," written by Boston–based freelance reporter Jason Notte, highlighted the growing epidemic of suicides among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inability of vets and members of the active armed forces to get proper mental-health care from government agencies.

Just hours after the Portland Phoenix hit the streets in Maine, the former Marine called the Portland office to thank us for publishing the story, and to share an account of his own ordeal, which includes at least one example of indefensible bureaucratic idiocy. The VA has prescribed this patient several behavior-modification medications to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. But the agency will not allow him to order refills until he takes the last pill from his previous bottle. Prescription refills arrive by mail, which takes seven to 10 days, condemning the vet to days of withdrawal and suffering every few months and a subsequent transition when he resumes taking the drugs.

The caller said that he was currently in his ninth day of withdrawal, having run out of all of his meds a week and a half ago. "I'm angry," he said, not only for himself but also for fellow Marines like those in the article, who have ended up killing themselves. "These kids didn't get killed over there," he said. Instead, a veteran got "to come home and have the VA kill him."

He also said he gets upset when he sees news coverage of celebrations for troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, because he knows what many of them will face. "In two months, they will be me," he said. "No wonder we're knocking ourselves off."

Portland Phoenix managing editor Jeff Inglis recommended the vet contact a local counseling service -- one not run by the VA -- that we had written about in a 2007 story about returning veterans. Notte, the reporter who wrote the story, also contacted the veteran and spoke with him at some length.

The veteran called again later, and left a voicemail saying that he had made an appointment with a counselor scheduled for early next week. In the middle of the message, he choked up, and said that between the article and our conversations with him, "You guys saved the life of a veteran."

Later that day, we heard from a woman who works for an attorney representing the veteran in question. She said she had been keeping in close touch with him lately, because he was, she said, "close to the edge." She also thanked us for saving his life.