Saturday, January 10, 2009

72-Hour Observations

Weekend Psych News

Texas death row inmate moved to psych facility
If there was any doubt that 25-year-old Andre Thomas has a serious mental disorder, he made his point last month. The death row inmate gouged out his left eye and ate it, resulting in a transfer to a psychiatric facility outside Houston. The case of Mr. Thomas, who had already removed his right eye in 2004, begs the question of how the mentally ill can be sentenced to death. Read more from the Associated Press.

Help for mentally ill in Arizona comes too little, too late
Writer Laurie Roberts posted a damning entry today at the Arizona Republic about the state of mental health care in Arizona. The system has come under fire after a mentally ill man named Joe Gallegos killed two boys with a baseball bat, and presumably had attacked others as well.

More problems at Patton
A patient was found unresponsive at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, CA on Thursday morning in what is now being called a suicide. The patient apparently hung himself. The death, if it is ruled suicide by the coroner, would be the sixth at Patton since 2003. The state hospital is under close scrutiny as part of a deal between state officials and the US Department of Justice to improve care for the residents, including keeping them safe from suicide and assault. Read more at the Los Angeles Times.
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Friday, January 9, 2009

No Purple Hearts for soldiers with PTSD

The Department of Defense announced this week that the psychic injuries of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are not enough to warrant a Purple Heart.
“The Defense Department has determined that based on current Purple Heart criteria, PTSD is not a qualifying Purple Heart wound,” department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said in a dispassionate news release on January 6. “PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.” It is not, she said, “a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an outside force or agent.”
Apparently, Department personnel had forgotten how serious PTSD is. The Pentagon's own experts estimate 20% of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering PTSD. In 2007, 115 military personnel committed suicide and another 93 did so in the first eight months of 2008. For any of us who have dealt personally or professionally with traumatized soldiers, the DOD's statement was downright insulting.
They must have realized the because the Department issued another release on Thursday, this time with a little more empathy. It read, "The Defense Department is deeply committed to providing the best care possible for military members with post-traumatic stress disorder, despite the determination that the disorder does not meet the criteria for the Purple Heart."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell is further quoted in the release stating, “So, just because an awards committee believes this particular injury does not qualify for this award, does not in any way reflect that we don't take this problem seriously and aren't committed to doing everything we possibly can towards preventing it, towards treating it, towards taking care of those who are suffering with it."
The committee to which Mr. Morrell referred is the Pentagon Awards Advisory Group, an assembly of "awards experts" from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the military departments, the Institute of Heraldry, and the Center for Military History. To the best of my knowledge, not one mental health expert or soldier with PTSD was invited to the conversation. If they had been, the awards committe would have gotten an earful, such as the comments at the Think Progress web site (see MSG Jack Perry's comment #17 there in particular).
What the Department of Defense refuses to acknowledge is that the damage of PTSD may never fully heal and many of our service personnel are coming home forever changed due to the psychic injuries they have suffered.
If you agree with me that the Department of Defense needs its head, and priorities, examined and that PTSD deserves a Purple Heart, follow this link to the DOD website and post your thoughts. You can also write to the following:

Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Gordon R. England
Deputy Secretary of Defense
1010 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1010

David S. C. Chu
Under Secretary of Defense
(Personnel and Readiness)

4000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-4000
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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Duckett's lawyers are ok with release of mental health records

Lawyers for Melinda Duckett, the young mother who committed suicide after being interviewed by CNN's Nancy Grace, will not object to releasing Ms. Duckett's mental health treatment records, according to a report posted yesterday on
As reported last weekend on this blog, Duckett's family is suing Grace and CNN for inflicting emotional distress on the young woman when her toddler went missing in August 2006. She later killed herself. Duckett is considered the prime suspect in the disappearance of her child, who was never found.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Update on Georgia's Mental Health Makeover

As discussed previously on this blog, Georgia officials are considering turning their state's mental health system over to the private sector (see "Georgia Edges Toward Eliminating Public Psychiatric Hospitals," Dec. 11, 2008). Since then, Gwen Skinner, director of the state's Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases, announced she will be leaving the troubled agency come this fall.
Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a thought-provoking opinion piece authored by Dr. Branko Radulovacki, a clinical psychiatrist and Program Director of the Adult Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program at the Ridgeview Institute. He rightly proposes that instead of looking to for-profit companies to run Georgia's psychiatric hospitals, the state's mentally ill would be far better served if non-profit hospitals took them over instead.
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