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The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Roseburg.

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.

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.”

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4213 or by email at ccegavske@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(3) comments

Marinewife1

The recommendations this VA is shortsightedly following may work with younger vets with recent traumas but I seriously don’t see it working for combat vets who have been suppressing their memories for 50 years or more. Even worse, it appears the VA is trying to return to the ‘if it moves, drug it’ methods of dealing with PTSD. This is another fine example of those in academia who have never experienced combat making decisions that will do incredible damage to those with PTSD until the next ‘study’ comes along. The PTSD group in his article has done so much good for my husband. I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist. I’m simply a wife who has seen how much benefit my husband has gotten from being a part of this group. I’m also the one who lives every night listening for the horrific nightmares. Before my husband joined this group I got very little sleep because most of his nights were spent in hours long cycles of nightmare after nightmare after nightmare. I don’t believe you can take moral people of conscience, put them in combat and tell them to take as many lives as they can and not have it harm them in lasting ways. These are good men who are at the end of their lives trying to get along as best they can - not human guinea pigs. Keep doing what works for them and try these new treatments on younger soldiers where it has a chance of working.

Old Tobi

The group posted news of this on Facebook before this article was printed, suggesting concerned folks should call the veteran's representative in a certain politician's office. I tried to do so, asking for that representative as specified, and was met with a gatekeeper who flat out told me that unless requests referred to a specific veteran, members of the public should not call about veterans' issues because that "wasted time." I think politicians need to know that veterans' issues DO concern members of the public, that we care. I have untreated debilitating PTSD from civilian trauma, and I know how valuable a resource this is for the folks using it. It's ridiculous thinking to discard it. Facilitated group therapy is cost effective. Taking it away is cruel.

Rockyboy

People are put in harm's way for our country, and then we treat them so callously like this? Shame on the VA, and the poor political support for proper veteran care.

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