Veterans Day Newsletter: Shining a spotlight on veterans issues
In 1993, after seeing the toll the first Gulf War was taking on returning veterans, Colonel Bart Billings established what is now the world’s longest running combat stress conference.
Billings, a Saybrook psychology PhD, has devoted much of his life to supporting his fellow soldiers as they come back from war. In addition to founding the International Military & Civilian Combat Stress Conference, he testified before Congress in 2010 on the pernicious impact of anti-depressants as a treatment for combat stress.
“I have personally seen military personnel as patients, who explained that they were given anti-depressants on the battlefield to simply try to stop smoking,” he told a House of Representatives committee on Feb. 24. But it’s not just the overuse of anti-depressants that concerns him: it’s their use as a panacea for PTSD.
As he told Congress:
“Stop and think about the fact that military personnel, who carry a weapon 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a year deployment, can be given a medication that has a black box warning, indicating a potential side effect can be suicide as well as aggressive, angry, and violent behavior that can lead to homicide. If a medical practitioner prescribed this type of medication in the civilian community, to a patient who constantly carried a loaded weapon (had a permit to do so) and had extensive training on how to use this weapon, they could likely be charged with malpractice and possibly lose their license to practice medicine. If there was a suicide or homicide by this patient, directly related to this prescription, then the practitioner could be criminally charged.”
Any exact link between the mass taking of anti-depressants and military suicides (and homicides) will require further study to ferret out – but the question should be moot. Because as Billing’s noted, anti-depressants are a bad treatment for PTSD in the first place.
“I have not observed significant long-term studies that have ever shown any psychiatric medication to be effective in treating PTSD, for which significant prescriptions in the military are written,” he said. “My overall observations and clinical experience leads me to state, emphatically, that integrative treatment approaches in treating combat stress and related problems is more effective in the long run, than prescribing drugs, both as a force multiplier and a money saver.”
We couldn’t agree more – and are proud of Billings, and all our graduates, who take exactly these techniques to the places and populations where they’re needed most.