by Daniel Williams, U.S. Army Combat Veteran
I testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs about the urgent need to reform mental health care in our military and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I had to share some hard, painful truths.
As an Army infantryman I was deployed in 2003-2004 to Iraq. I was wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated and injured my body and my mind. I received a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but the most severe wound as been post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
From the moment I got injured until my honorable discharge, I received very little help from the Army-or even acknowledgement of my mental state. I went to the base clinic at Ft. Hood in Texas and reported anxiety and readjustment issues, but was told that I needed to wait six months for an appointment with a psychiatrist.
With no help or hope, I attempted suicide with a .45 caliber pistol while locked at home in the bathroom. My wife called the police. When they kicked open the door, I pulled the trigger, but by the grace of God, the weapon misfired. The officers handcuffed me and put me in the back of the police car. One of them attempted to clear my weapon, but when he did, the same round that refused to kill me went off perfectly for him. Thankfully, no one was injured. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the base hospital for two weeks.
When I first went to the VA in Birmingham in 2007, I felt lost and had no guidance. I had to wait hours to see a doctor and wait in lines while constantly seeing and hearing on televisions in the waiting rooms news about the war with soldiers being killed. Later, at an outpatient clinic in Huntsville, I enjoyed my regular MD but the psychiatrist was a nightmare. She recommended inpatient treatment, including shock treatments to reset my brain. I did not want to do this and decided to try psychotherapy for a while.
I got worse, not better. My therapist didn't listen. She just threw pills at me. My wife and I returned to the Birmingham VA for help. We argued loudly with the receptionist. VA police officers came to investigate. At that critical moment, we met Dr. Ryan. For the first time a doctor actually listened He arranged for me to see a therapist weekly, ensured that I had proper medications, was assigned to support groups and was able to take classes. I also met with a local recovery coordinator.
Later, I was asked to serve on the medical center's veterans' mental health council, an activity VA initiated to give veterans a voice to help make the local VA system better for mental health.
Veterans and family members have to serve as advocates to get the help they need. I am glad NAMI is on our side and I am proud to have represented NAMI before the Senate committee.---