70 Percent of VA Health Care Providers in 2011 Survey Report Inadequate Resources; Veterans Paying the Price

Army Guardsman Turned Away From Minneapolis VA Hospital After Seeking Help During Psychotic Episode … Now Facing Punishment, Discharge

1.25 million veterans received VA mental health treatment in 2010, officials scramble to keep pace with demand

Star Tribune, April 14, 2012

After six sleepless nights, Blake Uddin knew he was in trouble.

He was hearing voices and feeling “clairvoyant.” A sergeant in the Wisconsin National Guard with two tours of duty in Iraq, Uddin drove himself to the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs hospital, where he expected to be admitted.

Instead, after a two-hour exam, doctors said he was not a threat to himself or others, even though they called his Guard unit and suggested he not be allowed around weapons. He was told to come back the following week.

Sgt. Blake Uddin, soldier suffering mental health breakdown went to the VA sure he would be admitted. Even though Uddin was hearing voices, VA doctors sent him home after a two-hour interview and called his Army Gurad unit to suggest his access to weapons be removed.

Four days later, with the voices now telling him, “Run … run … they’re coming,” he stole a car, crashed it and spent desperate minutes rushing across four lanes of morning rush-hour traffic.

Footage from an overhead traffic camera shows him stepping in front of a semi-truck slowing to keep from striking him. Then he is hit by a van and thrown 50 feet into a ditch.

A psychologist who later examined him said Uddin was experiencing “an acute, significant, psychotic break.” The psychologist took the unusual step of criticizing the VA for not admitting him or giving him medication and called the VA’s lack of action “perplexing.”

“I’ll take responsibility for it,” Uddin says now of the morning last year that changed his life. “But light needs to be shed that things could have changed.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is facing unprecedented demands on its mental health system. Like Uddin, about one of every three soldiers returning from Iraq was seen in a VA facility for mental health treatment within a year of returning.

Nationally, there is growing concern that the VA is failing its mission. It’s facing criticism for staffing shortages and delays in seeing veterans worried about their mental state.

“There is a serious systemic problem with access to mental health care,” said Patrick Bellon, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, which sued the VA for how it handled access to its mental health programs. “If you are in a serious mental crisis, two weeks might as well be forever.”

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