When the military wants to swiftly rejoin soldiers with combat following traumatic events suffered in the line of duty, when it wants to conceal the deadly effects of PTSD, depression and anxiety, it relies heavily on a drug regimen consisting of psych drugs, that proves, in many cases, more debilitating than the trauma. The military monolith is not built on a platform of nurturing and sustaining mental health in our nation's soldiers; the machine is designed to ingest our soldiers, and spit them out on the other side, to label them either out-of-use, or recyclable. This nation must pay attention to what our military is doing to our soldiers, the drug regimens it so heavily relies on to mask symptoms of physical and mental pain, anguish and disability. This nation must serve as watchdogs and advocates for our soldiers - and there has been no better advocate for this cause than my friend, Darla Grese, who lost her twin sister Kelli, a formerly high-functioning sailor, to suicide following a roller coaster of drugs prescribed by the VA which, literally, drove Kelli to insanity and, ultimately, suicide (you can read Kelli's story here). Darla Grese and I have combined forces during the past months to bring this critical conduct by the military onto the national radar, and Darla shared with me some of Kelli's final journal entries (see slideshow), written as she lost hope and careened wildly between moments of clarity mixed with moments of hellish mental instability.
"I feel like this 'journal' to discovery," Kelli wrote, "Is more like a living will, except I have nothing to leave behind! Just my words!!" She left behind a grieving twin sister, Darla, who had helplessly watched Kelli's decline, and whose grief motivated her to become a fierce advocate for Kelli.
As reported by USA Today following Darla's lawsuit against the VA for its failed treatment of Kelli, "Darla Grese said her sister was prescribed clonazepam, a highly addictive benzodiapine meant for short-term treatment of anxiety, and later the stimulant Adderall, even though she had no record of attention deficit disorder, for which that drug is prescribed. The Adderall triggered a cascade of mental symptoms, including auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia and full-blown psychoses . . . During her decade of VA care, Kelli Grese was prescribed at least 25 medications, some simultaneously." Said Darla, "I don't understand how a physician can write a prescription for 450 pills and two months later write another prescription for 450. Something's broken. The system is broken." In fact, according to Darla, who kept meticulous records of Kelli's medication, in 1999 alone 5,370 Klonopin were prescribed to Kelli - roughly 14 pills a day.
Darla and I met when my concern grew over my son's medical treatment - largely consisting of over a dozen medications at any given time - at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Texas. You can read about his drug regimen, and attendant military punishment for his failure to continue in a high-functioning capacity, here and here.
When my son called me from Afghanistan - in the spring of 2012 - to tell me that he had rolled over an IED in the MaxPro wrecker he was driving, that he and his battle buddy had been blown up, all I felt was relief: That he was calling, he was alive, he seemed well. He was breathless and shaky - now, looking back, he was probably in shock - but he sounded strong, he hadn't lost a limb, he was breathing. At the time, I couldn't see down the road, couldn't envision what he'd go through in the months and years ahead. All I cared about, right then, was that my son was still alive.
Over a year later, he lingers at Ft. Bliss in El Paso in the Warrior Transition Battalion, struggling to regain his life after being diagnosed with neck and spinal injuries, a brain injury, and the usual suspects, debilitating and quiet and potentially deadly, of PTSD, depression and anxiety. And through it all, looming large, is the ugly specter of the one thing that soldiers seem to rely on more and more to stop the emotional and physical pain: Suicide.
Until recently, when Illinois Senator Mark Kirk became involved, and the military powers at Ft. Bliss became aware that there was media attention being brought to bear on its conduct, my son was simply treated with medication, and left to work through his emotional and physical injuries in isolation. My experience, with the help of friends, including Darla Grese, in attempting to draw national attention to this matter was successful in that the door to my son's care was opened for me, and his medical team - some of whom are truly caring and skilled, but shackled by military protocol - allowed me to be involved in his care. Today, he is doing better, on fewer medications and provided necessary therapeutic treatment - but without advocacy, it's doubtful his situation would have changed.
Darla Grese, who grieves the death of her sister, and I, whose son has been ensnared in the military's medical system while he slowly moves toward a medical discharge, are working to start a national movement to ensure better treatment of our active duty soldiers and veterans. We need advocates everywhere, contacting our Senators and Reps, requiring that the government treat our soldiers with the care and respect they deserve, that they've earned. Martha Zoller, who runs Zpolitics, was an advocate and friend, and published articles on this topic; Lorraine Devon Wilke, who writes for the Huffington Post, shared my articles. Stan White, who lost his son, Marine Corporal Andrew White, to military over-medication, is a tireless advocate for this cause. As we've recently learned, the Washington Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, was on psychiatric drugs at the time of his rampage.
As Kelli Grese wrote on her journal cover, "If found upon my death: Give to my sister: Darla Grese . . . haven't given up yet world!" Kelli never purposefully gave up, but the military gave up on her. Medications were substituted for the care and treatment she desperately needed to treat her mental health issues.
On November 12, 2010, Kelli Grese killed herself. Only her words - "haven't given up yet world!" - remain.