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San Diego VA Offers Conflicting, Untrue Statements About Drug Treatment For Suicidal Vets

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More suicidal and depressed veterans are coming forward to share their anger and desperation over the San Diego VA’s decision to take them off a drug treatment they say helped them.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Our partners that I knew source recently reported about a controversy at the San Diego VA VA doctors are removing suicidal veterans from a lifesaving drug and transitioning them to what some claim is a less effective nasal spray. Now I knew source investigative reporter, Brad Racino has found the VA is lying about its reasons. My temperament is not the best. I'm angry. I am full of rage.

Speaker 2: 00:31 Tom Johan is a 73 year old air force veteran whose depression and suicidal thoughts have plagued him for decades. He's tried medications, electroconvulsive therapy, and other treatments, nothing helped until he found ketamine. The Ramona vet says the drug was like a rebirth.

Speaker 1: 00:49 My mind was refreshed. I could think I had compassion. I could see colors. Um, I wasn't afraid to be around people.

Speaker 2: 01:00 Ketamine is an effective and rapid treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts, which is why the San Diego VA has for years sent dozens of high risk veterans like Yohan to the Kadima neuro psychiatry Institute. The LA Jolla clinic is run by a recognized expert in ketamine treatment. Dr. David Pfeifle.

Speaker 1: 01:20 Yeah, that, that, that man to me is an anointed man directly from God.

Speaker 2: 01:26 But in, I knew source investigation found the VA recently began pulling those vets from [inaudible] care with little to no warning to put them on a nasal spray called provato. The alternative drug is not working for the vets. And in some cases increasing their suicidal thoughts. The VA decision sparked one veteran suicide in October.

Speaker 1: 01:47 And if, if anybody cared about us, it's the only time would be if, if 10 of us kill ourself. At one time,

Speaker 2: 01:58 We asked the San Diego VA, why it made this decision. The agency's responses were conflicting and false. At first, the VA claimed it could offer similar services at its LA Jolla hospital records. We obtained show that isn't true. The VA also said they had talked about a transition plan with the vets whose lives would be appended by this decision emails and interviews with veterans and the Kadima staff. Don't back that up. Those who've tried and failed. The VA's treatments are now desperate to return to [inaudible] care, but the VA is saying, no

Speaker 1: 02:31 That's yeah, patients were captured patients. They can't leave. They can't go to a hospital

Speaker 2: 02:37 Down the street. Dwight Sterling is the CEO of the center for law and military policy, a nonprofit think tank in Huntington beach.

Speaker 1: 02:45 So here we take the, you know, the vets who are hurt the most as a result of their service. And we put them into a system on the hospital side where they have no rights to hold their doctors to

Speaker 2: 03:00 Account know whatsoever. Last week, the VA abruptly gave a different reason for switching from ketamine to provato. It said Kadima gave ketamine through an injection and not an IV because that's not what the VA had authorized. The clinic can't treat the veterans. The agency's records show that isn't true. VA psychiatrist and its top administrators have repeatedly authorized injections, academia.

Speaker 1: 03:26 And it was clear to me that the VA has been caught in a lie and they are doing exactly what they always do in such a situation, which is to try to get the reporter who, you know, has them, you know, caught, uh, no off their backs.

Speaker 2: 03:43 The house veteran's affairs committee is looking into what's happening in San Diego and local members of Congress are aware of the situation, but veterans like Johan continue to come forward, hoping someone will take action. Sterling. The think tank CEO says he expects nothing will change unless Congress threatens the VA budget. It's the population that we should be caring about the most. We have a system where we care about them. The least the VA will not respond to questions about it's contradictory or false statements, and is continuing with a plan to remove all veterans from Kadima. By the end of September for KPBS, I'm a news source, investigative reporter, Brad, Racino

Speaker 1: 04:27 More on this story is coming up on the KPBS round table at 1230. If you or someone you know, is considering suicide call the national suicide prevention hotline at +1 800-273-8255.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.