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Veterans Voices: Army Vet Joel Andrews’ Fight With Depression

Army veteran Joel Andrews is shown outside of his home in Escondido on June 1...

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Above: Army veteran Joel Andrews is shown outside of his home in Escondido on June 1, 2020.

inewsource’s Veterans Voices series features first-person accounts from veterans suffering from depression who are being taken off an effective drug treatment by the San Diego VA. This post was written by Army veteran Joel Andrews and lightly edited by inewsource:

Hi, my name is Joel. I am a husband, a father and a veteran. I was born in, and grew up in, North San Diego County.

Listen to this story by Brad Racino of iNewsource.

My childhood wasn't the greatest. My parents basically hated each other. I also have an older brother. It was insane, sometimes violent, sometimes funny, and a lot of sadness.

Before I joined the Army, I was a Boy Scout. I took a lot of agricultural classes during high school. I was also a sheriff's explorer for two years. My youth was a weird one!

After high school, late summer in 1993, I left for basic training as an 11B1P, infantry airborne. After training I was sent to the 1/508th airborne at Fort Kobbe in Panama. I was only down there for about seven months. We did so much awesome training, water jumps out of helicopters, explosives training, long marches through the jungle at night. And in between we had a lot of fun!

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Courtesy of Joel Andrews

Soldiers from the 508th Infantry Regiment are shown during a jump in Panama. This photo was taken by Joel Andrews, who was in the regiment.

I then signed up for “The Old Guard” — I always kind of liked the spit and polish — and I reported to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer in Virginia, right on the edge of Arlington Cemetery.

I was assigned to B Company, 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon. I was on a six-man simple honors casket team until I got out in ‘97. I took part in many different types of ceremonies, funerals, President Bill Clinton's second inauguration. We froze our asses off!

It was a pretty busy time in the cemetery. We performed a lot of funerals. Some kind of funny, and some really sad. We always tried to make light, but sometimes reality seeped in. There was a lot of craziness in the barracks and pretty much everywhere we went. I have many wild stories!

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Army veteran Joel Andrews shows a photo from when he was in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard, June 1, 2020.

The job started getting to me and I was drinking a lot. One night I got into trouble with the MP's. I got really depressed, and shortly after I swallowed a ton of painkillers. I was found just in time. I was released from the Army early.

After the Army, I was pretty depressed. The work had just emptied my soul. I tried to drink myself to death for about a month. I finally got it together and got a job. I met my wife there. I moved into the trades. I managed to keep the depression kind of under wraps by working my ass off.

Photo caption:

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Army veteran Joel Andrews bakes cookies with his daughter, Emily, in their home in Escondido, June 1, 2020.

I worked hard to help make a good life for my wife and daughter. I had finally gotten my dream job, and then I became very ill. It took me several months of going round and round with the doctors until I was finally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This ended my construction career in 2013.

The depression really came on strong after that. I started going to the VA for my mental health care. It was trial and error with drugs, cognitive behavioral therapy classes, studies and even transcranial magnetic stimulation. Finally, I was referred to ketamine therapy.

Photo caption:

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Army veteran Joel Andrews waits to transfer buses at San Diego Miramar College on his way home from receiving a Spravato treatment at the VA Medical Center in La Jolla, May 29, 2020.

The ketamine therapy was weird at first. I was hesitant to go at all, but I was shocked at how good I felt after just the first treatment. It was given by a shot in the arm, and they provided a nice serene place to have your trip.

I have had good treatments and bad ones, where I was under a lot of stress and it came out. For the most part, it had a tremendous impact on my life. I started feeling more serene, more able to live in the moment.

I knew that Kadima Neuropsychiatry Institute in La Jolla was having trouble with the VA for several months. Then in early May, I received a call from a VA doctor. He informs me that I can no longer go to Kadima for my ketamine therapy. He then tells me the VA is now providing Spravato treatment. So if I wanted, I could sign up for that! I really didn't have a choice, so I said sure. I also started sending emails out to every political force that I could think of.

I went through eight sessions of the Spravato treatment. It really had no effect on me. It just served to fuel my flame!

Photo caption:

Photo by Zoë Meyers / inewsource

Army veteran Joel Andrews walks past the San Diego VA Medical Center after receiving a Spravato treatment on May 29, 2020.

They then scheduled me for IV ketamine treatments. This treatment is done in a post-anesthesia care area. Nurses and doctors are everywhere. Hooked up to monitors, and not a good environment for ketamine therapy.

The first couple treatments were a weak dose. During all of this, I am slowly getting more depressed and feeling defeated by the VA. It finally boiled over, and I was just agitated and feeling suicidal. I had to check myself into the crazy jail at the VA.

While there, I earned myself a few more days. They also doubled my treatments of the IV ketamine. I had two psychotic episodes! One each treatment. I finally figured out that the invasive nature of the whole procedure was getting me agitated and anxious.

Suicide prevention help

If you are having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240. Other resources are available here.

After getting out of the hospital, I was right back the following weekend. Just a lot of stress, and the treatments were not very effective. My last treatment was a little better. I am just trying to get to the finish line and get my serenity back.

Hopefully, if I can't go back to Kadima, the VA will at least start their own IM (intramuscular) ketamine program that has a peaceful setting.

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