We Must Treat Our Veterans Better In Treating Physical And Mental Health: A Mother Describes How The VA Failed Her Son

(11-11-20) My uncle died overseas during World War Two, my father, grandfathers and another uncle were all veterans. I lost a high school classmate in Vietnam. Our veterans deserve our thanks. They also deserve decent physical and mental health care and when that doesn’t happen, we need to expose it. This letter, which I first published last year, sadly shows that all too often we fail to keep our promises to the men and woman who answered our nation’s call.

Dear Pete,

I want to tell you about my son and how the Veterans Administration failed to treat him, contributed to him having a mental breakdown, and then refused to help him.

As you know, as many as twenty veterans a day choose to end their own lives. In our son’s case, we believe the VA’s failure to help our son caused him to attempt “suicide by cop” with tragic results.

My son was the third of five children. He grew up in a happy home, was intelligent and friendly, independent, and enjoyed finding the exception to the rule. He worked construction jobs while a teen, which provided a good income and enabled him to buy a car before his older siblings.

At 17, he joined the National Guard and tested in the 90% range. They wanted him to go into military intelligence, but he chose to be a regular soldier. His unit was sent to Iraq. He later volunteered to go to Afghanistan with another unit.

While deployed, he was involved in multiple violent conflicts. Our son was always able to remain calm, and he saved lives due to his training and ability to provide medical first aid. He was awarded an ARCOM – an Army Commendation Medal for heroism.

We were proud of him and his service to our nation.

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Who Will Be Named New Assistant Secretary? Will SAMHSA Continue Focusing On Serious Mental Illnesses?

Death of D. J. Jaffe Leaves A Hole For Those Pushing A Serious Mental Illness Agenda

(11-09-20)  What direction will the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) take after a new assistant secretary is appointed?

The Biden transition team already is in the process of compiling a list of potential candidates to replace Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Secretary of Health and Human Services for Mental Health and Substance Use.

Under her leadership, serious mental illness (SMI) has been a priority at SAMHSA following a predecessor who ignored it for years.

President Trump nominated Dr. McCance-Katz in May 2017 but she didn’t take office until late that fall after Senate confirmation.  The Biden team intends to move much quicker in naming her replacement, I’ve been told, hoping to have a new assistant secretary in place by April.

Some hoped Dr. McCance-Katz would be asked to continue, but her comments during a recent Health and Human Services podcast doomed her. She was accused of promoting Trump’s political agenda rather than backing science, and she drew additional criticism after she accused the media of being dishonest about reporting COVID. Shortly before the election, she moved to clarify her remarks in an interview with MedPage Today but the political damage already had been done.

In a 2018 year-end blog, I named her the most influential player in mental health for that year. Although I didn’t initially back her for the job (I’d recommended Miami Dade Judge Steven Leifman), Dr. McCance-Katz graciously appointed me to the federal panel that advises Congress about mental health matters (ISMICC) and I was invited to tell my family’s story to HHS Sec. Alex Azar so he could hear first-hand about barriers that parents face trying to get meaningful help for a loved one.

Dr. McCance-Katz immediately set out to change SAMHSA’s course.

The agency didn’t employ a single psychiatrist at one point before Dr. McCance-Katz took charge. It issued a three-year plan that never mentioned bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Dr. McCance-Katz was so disgusted by what she observed when she worked as SAMHSA’s first chief medical officer that, upon resigning, she published a 2016 article in Psychiatric Times that accused her former employer of harboring “a perceptible hostility toward psychiatric medicine” and questioning “whether mental disorders even exist- for example, is psychosis just a “different way of thinking for some experiencing stress?”

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Courageous Fairfax Police Chief To Retire. Strong Advocate For Individuals With Mental Illnesses, Including His Own Officers

Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., retiring. WTOP photo

Chief Roessler Was Among First To Openly Discuss Police Suicides. Also Courageously Condemned Officer Who Used Taser Unprovoked On Delusional Man In Crisis

(11-6-20) Fairfax County (VA) is losing a strong and unwavering advocate for individuals with mental illnesses.

Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. announced this week that he will retire in February after eight years as chief, bringing a close to a nearly 30 years career in law enforcement.

In addition to pushing for Crisis Intervention Team training inside his 1,402 member department, Chief Roessler demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that individuals with mental illnesses be treated decently when he publicly condemned the actions of one of his own officers in June.

Chief Roessler said he was “disgusted” after an officer marched up to an adult male with a history of mental illness and shot him with a taser without provocation before pinning him to the ground. The man had been speaking nonsense and walking in circles in the street. The officer was criminally charged with assault.

Shamefully, but predictably, the Fairfax Fraternal Order of Police expressed outrage and demanded Chief Roessler resign rather than recognizing that one of their own could have better handled the call. That grumbling continues today.

The incident attracted national attention, in part, because the officer was white and the victim was black. In Fairfax County, use of force by police disproportionately affects Black people: 2019 data show that Black residents make up less than 10% of the county’s population, but are involved in 45.6% of police use-of-force incidents.

Chief Roessler’s courage in publicly condemning his officer’s use of force reflected the chief’s long-held concern about how individuals with mental illnesses are viewed and treated. That concern applied to those within police ranks as well as the citizens the police had sworn to protect. Under his direction, the police department produced a video called “Consequences of the Badge” that featured interviews with Fairfax County officers who either had contemplated suicide or had lost a fellow officer or loved one because of a suicide. Chief Roessler was among the first to break the code of silence about police suicides by speaking nationally about suicide by officers. In 2019, 228 American police officers died by suicide. A previous study in 2017, found more died from suicide than were killed in the line of duty.

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Waiting All Night Outside Jail Afraid Daughter Will Be Released To The Streets: Part Two of A Mother’s Plight

Mother struggles to get daughter released from Jefferson Parish Correctional Center after seven months and mounting charges (photo source WVUE)

(11-4-20) This is the second in a two part account of Lisa Aneiva’s attempt to help her daughter, Mariel Vergara, who has a mental illness, PTSD and autism.)

Janet Hays first heard about a young Hispanic woman being held in disciplinary lockdown inside the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center from a source in law enforcement who was concerned because Mariel Vergara was clearly mentally ill and was racking up more and more criminal charges while incarcerated.

Mariel’s arrest had been a big news story, especially in New Orleans, after she walked naked into a terminal at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International airport in April and demanded to buy a ticket. Deputies were called. There was a confrontation and Mariel was arrested on 5 charges, only to have six more criminal charges added while she was in jail awaiting trial.

Janet Hays, mental health advocate

Janet had began advocating for better mental health care in her state after a close friend died in 2009 because she couldn’t get mental health care. Hurricane Katrina had devastated the city in 2005 closing Charity Hospital, where her friend always had been treated. The hospital had 128 long-term psychiatric beds and 50 crisis stabilization beds. Janet urged the state to convert the hospital into a modern mental health care and research center but developers were smacking their lips at converting the downtown New Orleans property into condos and shops.  Janet initially formed Healing Minds NOLA, a non-profit advocacy organization, as part of her Charity Hospital campaign. Since then, Healing Minds has expanded into other advocacy efforts. Most recently, Janet broadcasts webinars with guests, including such heavy-weights as U.S. Senator Dr. Bill Cassidy (R.). Even the police have asked her for help dealing with seriously mentally ill residents who are homeless.

Mariel’s mother, Lisa Aneiva, was learning about Janet at about this same time. Lisa, who lives in Northern Virginia, was happy to accept Janet’s help. She told the advocate that she feared Mariel’s mental illness was getting worse in jail. Studies have shown that prolonged isolation while incarcerated exacerbates mental illnesses. Janet was familiar with stories of inmates with mental illnesses in Louisiana being held in isolation cells, often naked in the dark for long periods. The Jefferson Parish Correctional Center also had made headlines after four inmates committed suicide, the last while waiting for a repeatedly delayed mental health examination.

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Woman Walks Nude Into Airport & Is Arrested. What Happened Next Was Worse. A Mother’s Struggle To Rescue Her Daughter

Happier Times: Mariel and her mother, Lisa

(11-3-20) This is part one of Lisa Aneiva’s struggle to help her daughter, Mariel, who was arrested in April after she walked nude into a New Orleans Airport. Mariel has a mental illness and was jailed rather than diverted into treatment. )

“What kind of mother are you?”

Lisa Aneiva, a single mother living in Northern Virginia, didn’t understand why she was being criticized on her Facebook page in early April.

Seconds later, another Facebook attack: “How could you let this happen?”

That second comment came with a link to a Fox News article.

“Woman arrested for entering New Orleans airport naked amidst coronavirus lock down.”

Lisa clicked on the link.

“People used to get dressed up to fly. A woman was recently arrested after allegedly arriving at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans completely naked. According to local reports, she refused to leave when the airport staff told her that she could not fly with no clothes on.”

The naked woman was Mariel Vergara. Lisa’s 27-year-old daughter.

“Mariel suffers from schizo-affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is on the autism spectrum,” Lisa told me. “At first I was relieved when I read the article.” Mariel had disappeared two weeks earlier after getting into a squabble with a relative. “I was so happy we knew where she was.”

At that moment, Lisa didn’t realize that she and her daughter were about to be swept up in a frustrating and frightening nightmare that continues today. Sadly, what happened to Lisa and Mariel is an all too common experience for parents of adult children who become one of the 2.2 million Americans with mental illnesses who are booked into jail each year.

Rather than getting mental health treatment, their adult child is punished.

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Fatal Police Shootings Raise Interest In “CAHOOTS” – Oregon Program That Reduces Violence, Unnecessary Arrests & Gets People Help

photo courtesy CAHOOTS/White Bird clinic

(10-30-20) The fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., this week in Philadelphia, who had a mental illness and was wielding a knife, made national headlines, drew comments from both presidential candidates, sparked rioting, and once again raised questioned about whether the police should be the first to respond when someone is in a mental health crisis.

CNN yesterday posted a story about five other recent fatal shootings of Americans in the midst of a mental health crisis.  At least one in four fatal shootings  by police involve a person with a mental illness.

Whenever talk turns about shifting responsibility from the police to mental health workers, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets ( CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Ore.,  is cited as a successful example of how communities can safely lessen police involvement.  An article written by Mark Obbie in The Crime Report highlights the “most thorough, thoughtful stories” about CAHOOTS. Thanks to Obbie and the Crime Report for sharing this index.

Would the CAHOOTS model work in your community?

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