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Marine claims medical malpractice led to his arrest

A U.S. Marine from Pennsylvania was in the news this week. Honorably discharged after service in the war in Iraq, the sergeant earned several medals for his bravery on the battlefield and was considered by his superiors as a highly effective leader with "limitless potential."

Six months after his 2007 discharge, he wound up in jail. The charges? Breaking into a pharmacy to steal drugs. How could this have happened?

The former sergeant and his wife believe that it is the result of medical malpractice committed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the office responsible for his medical treatment. Unfortunately, he is not the only vet in this situation who believes negligent medical treatment is responsible for a sudden, destructive change in their behavior. Several of them, including this soldier, have filed federal lawsuits against the VA.

According to the former sergeant's lawsuit, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was diagnosed with the mental health condition in 2007 and is considered 100 percent mentally disabled as a result. PTSD all too commonly affects soldiers who have spent time on the battlefield. Some symptoms include:

  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Inability to sleep
  • Hyperarousal and hypervigilance
  • Fear of crowds
  • Avoidance of anything that may remind her/him of the trauma
  • Irritability, extreme mood swings and substantial changes in behavior

Antisocial behavior and drug addiction are also very commonly associated with PTSD.

The medical malpractice lawsuit claims that the VA failed in its duty of care to this soldier because it failed to provide him with appropriate treatment to help him live with his disability. Instead, the VA provided him with medication but did not provide him with any form of counseling, which is essential.

He was left to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, which ultimately led to addiction and to his desperate attempt to illegally obtain pain medication that he hoped could alleviate his emotional pain.

A psychological expert with the VA has admitted that the medical treatment the former sergeant received did not meet the expected standard of medical care, which meets the legal definition of medical malpractice.

If the VA had provided appropriate mental health treatment for his PTSD, the Marine argues, he could have learned how to cope with his PTSD and might not have become chemically dependent. If he had still become addicted to medication, a counselor could have helped him with that issue.

If the VA failed to properly treat the solder's disability, he might never have been arrested. How much responsibility does the VA have in allowing this decorated, promising soldier to fall so far?

Source: The Times Leader, "Suit targets care at VA," Terrie Morgan-Besecker, Nov. 20, 2011

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