Military sexual assault survivors concerned VA treatment over-relies on medications, not counseling

Survivors of military sexual trauma complained that the Department of Veteran Affairs’s mental health treatment model relies too heavily on prescription medications instead of counseling.

Former Private First Class Jessica Kenyon, who was raped while on active duty in 2006, expressed her concerns about the over-medication practices used by the VA to treat military sexual assault survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems.

“Rather than proper counseling it is often the case that medications are prescribed. Many times pills are almost immediately prescribed [by] their various VA caregivers with no experience of what they might actually do to the mental health of the individual other than the list of warnings, which are often not taken seriously,” Kenyon testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel. “These mountain of drugs are also being mixed and matched constantly and most of which were never supposed to be mixed with anything other, let alone the numbers in which the VA doles them out. It is not uncommon to hear veterans being prescribed dozens of medications at a time.”

Retired Marine Lance Corporal Jeremiah Arbogast, who was drugged and raped by his former Marine supervisor, said the VA would “throw drugs at you” – sometimes “four or five prescriptions” at a time – and many of those drugs would have powerful and adverse side effects that worsen patient’s the mental state.

“The thing is they don’t want you to commit suicide, but that’s the side effects of these medications – a lot of these medications is suicide,” said Arbogast, whose suicide attempt left him paralyzed.

Arbogast said the dangers of over-medication were compounded by the long waits to see a mental health counselor at the VA.

“When you get these medications, you’ve got six month gas before you see a psychologist or psychiatrist. So there’s too many long gaps there. And then when you go there, you spend five minutes in their office,” said Arbogast. “So if you live far away, you know, you travel 90 miles just to spend five minutes in an office, and they’re ‘Oh, we’ll throw this drug at you and we’re going to throw that one at you.'”

Kenyon pointed out that some VA mental health providers will refuse to treat the victim if the victim decides not to take the drugs due to the severe side effects.

“The survivors have little to no recourse if things were to go wrong”, said Kenyon. “For those of us who do not wish to be drowned in psychoactive drugs, many of our cases are left to wither and our wellness opportunities are hard to come by or are too expensive or unavailable.”

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