A group of Vietnam veterans told The News-Review this week they’re about to lose a group therapy program they say has improved their lives and, in some cases, saved their marriages.
The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center said it is moving toward a more evidence-based approach to treating post-traumatic stress disorder. The veterans said they were told that the weekly therapy sessions that some have relied on for as many as 20 years would end this week. After they complained, the VA announced the group would continue meeting while it transitions to an unspecified new type of care.
By Thursday afternoon, group member Chris Haymond had collected 45 signatures on a petition urging the VA to continue the groups.
Haymond has been a member of a Vietnam veterans therapy group at the VA since 2001. He said the VA therapist who facilitates the group’s sessions announced last week he had been promoted to a different job and that no one would be replacing him. The therapist facilitated groups for Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II veterans.
Haymond said his group is important to the veterans, and it’s not acceptable to “have it pulled out like they turned the lights off all of a sudden.”
He began attending after his wife gave him an ultimatum.
“I was told that if I didn’t get some help ... I would no longer be married,” he said.
He credits the weekly sessions with saving his marriage.
So does Herman Redlich, who said he was on the “brink of just going under” when he joined the group about eight years ago. He said it was a “real kick in the shorts” to hear the group meetings would end.
Redlich said the group members support each other.
“I compare it to going to church on Sundays, and how you feel when you come out of church, a feeling of serenity and that everything’s going to be OK,” he said.
Group member Richard Gorthy said he used to “be a yeller,” but the group has helped him with that.
“I don’t relate to people very well, especially people that are noncombatants. The guys in my group, I can relate to them ... and vice versa,” he said.
Several of the veterans said it just wouldn’t work as well to meet as a social group without a facilitator to keep them on track. They also said individual counseling would not be as effective.
“When you go to a one-on-one meeting you’re seeing a psychologist behind a desk with a computer that asks you the questions and punches in the buttons and then you go home,” said group member Paul Knupp.
Knupp said his wife finds him easier to get along with since he joined the group around 2000.
“They don’t make a pill to do that. The VA’s not going to get off by giving you another pill to try to fix you,” he said.
Andy Hansen is relatively new to the group, having joined three years ago. He used to kick and punch in his sleep, forcing his wife to go into the other room at night. Now he sleeps better, and he has hope.
He said it’s the veterans’ similar experiences that make the group effective.
“It’s a sense of continuity for us. We know each other well. We have a bond. It’s just something I think America owes us. We need help and this is really helping,” he said.
New director focuses on experiences
Interim VA Director Kevin Forrest said the group therapy program has merit, but there is a movement nationwide toward more evidence-based approaches, meaning programs backed by studies proving their effectiveness. He didn’t specify what the new approaches would be.
“Evidence-based treatments are by far the most effective when it comes to treating PTSD and other mental health issues, that’s why the Roseburg (VA) is taking steps to maximize their use,” he said in an email. “As part of this effort, we are engaging this particular PTSD group to discuss evidence-based groups and an appropriate transition. The group, however, will continue to meet during this transition.”