January 08, 2014

Name: Mikey Piro
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Lindenhurst, NY
Milblog: ptsdsurvivordaily

The Lobotomy Files

If you have not followed the Wall Street Journal’s “the Lobotomy Files” I highly recommend it to watch and read. The project chronicles the storied controversy over the use of lobotomies on Veteran Patients just after World War II in the VA system. In a flurry of trying anything to treat then-undiagnosed PTSD, over two thousand Veterans were lobotomized. The stories are both chilling and sad. What I find most troubling is that this is not just a look into the past, but also a glimpse into a report of our future. Tales of failed shock treatment, water treatment and finally a lobotomy depict a horrible life for a returned and committed Veteran with PTSD into the VA system.

Some of the more horrific outtakes:

Shock treatment then the lobotomy:

“Within a month, VA headquarters set guidelines. It ordered doctors to limit lobotomies to cases 'in which other types of treatment, including shock therapy, have failed' and to seek permission of the patient’s nearest relative.”

“At the VA, Dr. Freeman pushed the frontiers of ethically acceptable medicine. He said VA psychiatrists, untrained in surgery, should be allowed to perform lobotomies by hammering ice-pick-like tools through patients’ eye sockets. And he argued that, while their patients’ skulls were open anyway, VA surgeons should be permitted to remove samples of living brain for research purposes.”  

I wonder how many of us are lab rats for the latest batch of lobotomy drugs?

What’s in a Lobotomy?

When I came home from Iraq and got linked into the VA, like countless others, I was prescribed a cocktail of drugs. At any given time, I was on no less than two and at most six different drugs. They were the only alternative to the nightmares and mood swings, as well as the spiraling depression. They propped me up, but I eventually realized that their use was no long term solution. Looking back, I was a blunted shell of my former self. If I did not fight to get off of them, I could easily see myself similarly described as the Veterans in the Wall Street Journal articles.

I am not a doctor. I am not a psychologist. But I feel that these drugs over the long term are harmful. My opinion is they have a window of effectiveness before they become a harmful dependency. Unfortunately, the VA is not mindful of that window and instead hands out drugs like candy. The VA tries to help those that can muster the strength to kick them. These drugs effectively lobotomize a Veteran. At first the effects are temporary and really do help in giving a Veteran a fighting chance at staring down the issues. However, if over the long term, a Veteran with a lobotomy and a Veteran on a cocktail of drugs have the same net behavior, then the VA is still in the business of Lobotomies.

Getting Off the Drugs

I knew that I would not be able to live a normal life without addressing and managing the symptoms of PTSD. It became apparent through that process, that I couldn’t live a normal life with these drugs either. I developed a plan with my therapist to get off the drugs and it was not only a personal goal, but a goal of therapy as well.  Coming down off of my meds was horrible. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I was even more irritable than normal. When I found that I was coming down and I was having a hard time, I often ran right back to the medicine cabinet. Cold Turkey was painful, so I started cutting my pills. It was so bad and I was such a bastard, my wife could tell when I was coming down and would often ask.

Ultimately, I went through the full withdrawal by talking with my doctor and flat stopped ordering them from the VA. It was a harrowing month for everyone in my house. Headaches, nausea, the ringing in my ears, erratic heartbeat. Getting to sleep was hell. But, I am so glad now that I was able to kick them. Losing weight was easier. My concentration improved. My creativity returned. Instead of an emotionally blunted existence, I was able to feel deeply again.

The Substitute

The short and easy answer to a drug alternative is pretty simple: stay in therapy (I transitioned out of “one on one” and into group), exercise regularly, and eat right. All of those things make a difference. I was and am regimented about therapy, exercise, and food. When any of them slip, I feel off balance. Attack those three with vigor and you will be well on your way to kicking the meds and living a more fulfilled Post Traumatic life.

Please comment if you are a Veteran or family member and still under the influence of the VA meds or had a similar story. As always, please share, and thanks again for reading.


Well at least they kicked off your treatment with emotionally numbing drugs.

On active duty, the Doc diagnosed my PTSD as "dysthymia," and ordered Wellbutrin, which just activates all of the shit.

That led to an arrest ....

I am a psychiatrist at the VA..and there is NOTHING I would love better than to NOT give medications to returning Veterans (and thank you for your service!).

To do this, the Veteran MUST be committed to therapy!! My hat goes off to Private Survivor...You are doing the work...and it's paying off!

If you know of ANY way to get our men and women to do the work with the pills, then please post it!

Thanks again!

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