Veteran Snaps Over PTSD Denial, Kills VA Psychologist Following Complaint

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El Paso VA

Benjamin KrauseMany of you know of the sad events surrounding the shooting of a VA psychologist following a perceived wrongful PTSD denial for benefits at the El Paso VA. On the heels of recent revelations that VA is failing veterans with mental health disorders, hopefully this unfortunate event will serve as a wakeup call throughout VA facilities and DoD nationwide.

<< VETERANS NEED COMPETENT, TIMELY MENTAL HEALTH CARE >>

In a recent GAO audit, VA incorrectly documented 63% of suicide cases. The majority of veterans seeking mental health care who also receive anti-depressants do not receive adequate follow up appointments. Repeatedly, VA has been reminded that it will never improve its mental health programs if it refuses to properly document and treat existing veterans.

These problems are well known and have been for a decade, but VA has refused to properly resolve the deficiencies evidenced by failed watchdog audits like the recent GAO evaluation.

Now, we have a death and shooting in El Paso. It is time to pray for the families affected and to pray that America will wake up and force VA and DoD to address these problems before we jump into more wars across the world.

El Paso is well known for having one of the worst wait list times.

The shooter, Jerry Serrato, was a veteran recently denied his PTSD claim. The VA employee Serrato shot was a VA psychologist at El Paso VA where Serrato was apparently denied his PTSD claim. His name was Timothy Fjordback, a senior psychologist.

Serrato’s denial was premised on VA’s assertion that his PTSD claim was not credible. Once the denial is in place, it is difficult for veterans to get access to mental health care to treat PTSD properly.

Following the denial, Serrato approached now deceased Fjordback in a grocery store and stated something like, “I know what you did and I will take care of that,” according to a source. He was reportedly upset about the denial.

Sadly, Serrato did chose to avail himself to Smith & Wesson rather than the backlogged appeal process to prove his PTSD claim. We may never know if proper diagnosis and treatment of PTSD may have prevented this tragedy, but moving forward I hope VA will take its job more seriously related to this condition.

This is a senseless tragedy, and VA needs to fix its mental health program to catch cases like this before it is too late for everyone.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/01/06/doctor-shot-presumed-shooter-found-dead-at-el-paso-va-clinic/

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John Goodwin

I think that many Dr. have no idea how to treat P.T.S.D., because I have P.T.S.D. and my so called treatment is a joke…

figure8fan
I agree with John. I don’t have PTSD and my heart and prayers go out to all of those who do. I am sure that with my treatment fro major depression that I can somewhat understand that they are not getting what they need. In the other blog that Ben posted about this, I was surprised at the amount of feedback on this. I think that to have that much feedback on one site shows there is indeed a problem with the VA and their treatment of the vets who need the mental health and are not getting the correct… Read more »
Vetwife Advocate
Vetwife Advocate
The VA knows the Vet psychology..(THEY USUALLY JUST GO AWAY AND DON’T FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS) There is Research that shows that side affects of the PTSD DRUGS are cognitive and memory problems; and this is in addition to the VA’s own research (most VA Phys and Counselors do not know) that if one has PTSD..then more likely than not they will develop cognitive problems and dementias and/or Alzheimers!!! VA’s Own Research!!! They you have a VA Psych in NY stating that Vets should not be given benzos…(again….memory/cognitive); They continually “throw” meds a the Vets; often they are worse; not… Read more »
Ron
Ron
I have received excellent care for my PTSD, both in Florida in an outpatient clinic and here at the VA Hospital in Asheville, NC. Obviously, there are some veterans that fall “between the cracks” for the correct medical care. But I do believe the overall diagnosis, care and being able to deal with this terrible disease is based on the doctor/patient relationship. I honestly believe, after 15 years of counselling, that the end result in managing this disease is also based on the patient being able to deal with this themselves. I do not blame the VA, the patients or… Read more »
J. Edward Vernon jr.
J. Edward Vernon jr.

Most of us do try our best to avail ourselves of the PROPER treatment, but there is a definite DISCONNECT between SYMPTOMS / TREATMENT. All we can do is tell how we feel and what is going on in our lives(as we understand it), but to be told by MEDICAL STAFF we are LYING, MALINGERING, FULL OF BULL, etc does not sit WELL WITH SOME OF US and is BEYOND comprehension for most of us.
Let us HOPE / PRAY this is an isolated incident and that the WHEELS do not fall off the TREATMENT CART.

Dan F
Dan F
Ron, it depends where you go. I had great care at the VA where I was first diagnosed. However, that was White River Jct., VT and that is where the VA’s National Center for PTSD is located. I moved to Pennsylvania and went to the Wilkes Barre VA. When I first wanted to see someone there, I was given an appointment 10 days out. I then saw a nurse practitioner who spent most of the time telling me how lousy that VA was and that there were no Psychiatrists available and the head of the Psychiatric department wasn’t board certified.… Read more »
Tesla
Tesla

Ron,

You clearly have issues. My wife is a Physician she was appalled how my VA Doctor spoke with me and treated me. Can you tell me that CREED and OATH the doctors take. If you don’t want to do a job…do the customer’s a favor and find another job!

Denise
Denise
John, it is called the “HIPPOCRATIC OATH” DO NO HARM! I’ve had the pleasure to take the oath a couple of times, and I am detailed oriented, imagine these VA NOT A PROFESSIONAL who make assumptions or my favorite “spin the wheel diagnosis” with an intern, who by the way I saw this nurse later in the week about drugs mailed to my home. She states, “why are you here again?” Seriously, I cannot make this up. Well, as my “intuitive nature” and knowing my shit rather well, excuse my curse word, oh you bet I know what is right… Read more »
Marty H.
Ron, I was glad to see your contribution to this blog. I have over 40 yrs experience in the mental health field, and some of my training was at a VA Center where the Vets did receive mostly careful, conscientious and appropriate treatment. The quality of treatment varies in and outside of the VA. Sloppy, careless prescribing of drugs is common, unfortuneately. Vets need to be willing to do “homework” outside of sessions and to cooperate with professional advice, and they aren’t always cooperative. The case of the shooting above is no proof at all that the VA treatment was… Read more »
Michael Parker

An article I read this AM states Jerry Serrato was medically discharged from the Army. Does anyone know why and if he was medically separated, medically retired or separated without benefits?

Angela Crew-Dothard
Angela Crew-Dothard

If he could receive care through the VA…he had to have been honorable discharge with benefits…

Michael Parker

Yes, but I am talking about DoD disability benefits, not VA benefits. BTW: you can get VA benefits with less than an honorable discharge.

My question is what was the nature of his medical discharge? Was he medically retired with a PEB rating of 30%+, was he medically separated with a PEB rating of 20% or less, or was his condition deemed EPTS or a condition not a disability (such as personality disorder) leading to a medical separation without DoD benefits?

Mike

BRENDA hAYES
BRENDA hAYES
Mike, Can you say more about DOD disability benefits? I’ve only heard of VA disability benefits? VA’s entire system is needs to be dismantled and let Vets go to the Community medical “system”s with Tricare/Champus insurance. How much good can a “new” Secretary do for Vets when we are close to another election? They let my husband “walk” to get an apptmt with a pulmunologist the next week (5 DAYS) ….found out he had blood in his heart veins still from blood clots in both lungs; still….after being on blood thinners for almost a year. Instead of putting Him back… Read more »
Michael Parker

Brenda,

DoD grants disability retirement pay or disability separation pay when a member becomes unfit for further service due to a compensable medical condition. This cases are vetted through the Disability Evaluation System which consists of a Medical Evaluation Board and a Physical Evaluation Board. See DoDI 1332.18 for deeper details.

Mike

figure8fan
Michael, I learned something and now I am a little confused on part of this. I was Honorably/medically discharged after going in front of the board and was found unfit for duty. I was granted a 10% disability and was offered a severance pay of over $4000. I learned that this was from the DoD (I didn’t know that). The confusion part is that when I was discharged I was told that I would get the severance pay and the 10% disability pay. So I took the severance pay during my discharge and was expecting the disability pay to start… Read more »
Michael Parker

When were you discharged? What service? What did the VA initially rate the condition that the PEB found unfitting? Did the unfitting condition incur in a combat zone? Was the unfitting condition combat related?

You did the right thing taking the DoD severance pay. Indeed it can be offset by the VA comp but the earlier that is done, the sooner you get full VA comp.

figure8fan
Michael, Discharged in 1985, injury occurred in 1984 during training to be transferred to Turkey . Air Force was the service. The board gave me a 10% rating for my left knee Chondromalaicia patella with the severance pay as a result of being unfit. I also had surgery on that knee in ’84 (arthroscopic) to remove a plica. No to combat zone either incurred or related. Still getting messed over on it today. Long story that I am trying to get resolved. It has gotten worse and is now in both knees and rated at 40%. Current VAMC states that… Read more »
Michael Parker

What did the VA initially rate the unfitting knee?

Mike

figure8fan

Michael, The VA initially rated the unfitting knee at 10% and then took every penny of it until I had paid back the severance pay.

Doug
Doug

Here’s the facts on character of discharge & benefits Angela

“Applying for Benefits and Your Character of Discharge

Generally, in order to receive VA benefits and services, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general). However, individuals receiving undesirable, bad conduct, and other types of dishonorable discharges may qualify for VA benefits depending on a determination made by VA.”

http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/docs/COD_Factsheet.pdf

J. Edward Vernon jr.
J. Edward Vernon jr.

I hate to say, “I told you so”, but I felt this kind of EVENT was not far from happening. The Govt. can not continue to treat these NEW JACK Vets like us OLD TIMERS, they have been taken from the comfort of being HOME / WORKING to fighting for their lives EVERYDAY. No amount of “WEEK-END” TRAINING can prepare a SOLDIER for that.
It was just a matter of time before this UNFORTUNATE event occurred.

Angela Crew-Dothard
Angela Crew-Dothard
Congress has been allowing the VAs to treat us any kind of way..this includes adjudicators and claims reps as well…I had a med board in 2009…however due to my EEOs and other complaints to Wash DC and now a Civil Suit…my claim with a med board has been thrown to the back of the room..until now…when I had to reach out to the now VA secretary and Under Secretary for assistance….this should not have happened…when you are an employee of the VA and a Veteran…we are so targeted to be provoked in the event I would react so I could… Read more »
james

no words can express my sorrow for the doctor and the veteran, they say for every action their is a reaction and sadly this is the worst outcome. We as a Nation MUST stop and treat each other with respect and diginity and quit pushing each others buttons.

George
George
Dont get me started…..VA Doctors do this all the time. I wish he could have received the assistance and air processing for his claim….but come on people this is the REAL WORLD and the VA could care less. i have an overworked, aged, worn out PCP …she has numerous complaints but does the same stuff over and over…i have talked to the Admin Ofiicer and Head .physcian……it simply does not matter to them. on top of they Physiologist in general annoy me…..how can a Physiologist say “he (being me) cheated on you (my wife)”. we have our issues but i… Read more »
james m. wood
james m. wood

Went to the V A clinic in Goshen indiana to talk about my P.T.S.D. it was like talking to a twelve year old off the street, First Guestion was do you own a gun, Second guestion ” what did you come back for ? ” she must have been just out of high school. some help.

Marcus Clingaman

Western Ave in South Bend isn’t any better….

barrry
barrry

another case of being lost in the system,just trying to make the number look good.We give hundred of millions of dollars away to nations that claim to be our allies; yet we fail to meet the most basic needs of our Veterans. I could tell of my story of fighting the VA system,but, it would be a story many Veterans have had themselves. the VA knows they don’t have to change just wait it out a few years and a new administration will be in power. Mean while the best of our nation suffers.

figure8fan

Barrry,
Well Said.

gijane52
Unfortunately, I can see why this happens over and over again. When we are not heard, how can we explain whats going on, mental health professionals need to really listen, not to just what is being said, but to what isnt said, the stoic, just “suck it up” behavior that most soldiers have ingrained in them, it doesnt just go away. And when they/we finally decide to reach out for help, and our feelings, our fears are discounted, thats when these things happen. When you feel like you have nothing to lose, you lose it, and it’s all over but… Read more »
figure8fan
gijane, you are so right. I have heard the “suck it up” so many times and it is true that when you feel like you have nothing to lose, you do lose it and many have lost more than “it”. I have used words that could be taken in a certain way during my appointments just to see if my psych. was actually listening. He wasn’t. No response from it, nothing in my record about it, nothing. I have done this more than once and no I am in no way to that point or even considering that. I was… Read more »
PJ
PJ

Suck it up is good advise. Why?

My daddy was shot down over enemy territory, sole survivor, w/ Buddie. He was listed as dead.

Made it back, with his own instinct and skills.

Came back to States, got married, put himself through college, started a business, and was a good provider for his family.

Died (20) years later in my arms, on the anniversary date the plane was shot down.

Now what is wrong w/ this picture?

His rank was staff sergeant, in US Army Air Force.

Tail-gunners kid

figure8fan
PJ, I am not sure of what your point is here. You say you are the son of a veteran who seems to have endured a lot in his military career and I am glad that he got to come back and have a family and I am sorry for your loss. This blog is about how us vets are being treated when we have a mental condition that desperately needs some help so we can become better and continue with our lives. I am not sure how many of us have heard the statement made by the Dr’s who… Read more »
Mike
Mike
It has been a rough go at trying to get a VA doctor or physiologist that hasn’t asked the question (and this after you have been seeing them for a while on a certain situation, “What brings you here to see me today?” I read, this has been a problem for a decade…how about decade’s of wasted time and unnecessary medication. I have lost four Vietnam Veteran friends to suicide and one Iraqi veteran that use to skateboard around my house…The VA Medical is a fail and the Mental Health is non-existent. Some doctors do try as other’s do that… Read more »
Tesla
Tesla

Ron,

You clearly have issues. My wife is a Physician she was appalled how my VA Doctor spoke with me and treated me. Can you tell me that CREED and OATH the doctors take. If you don’t want to do a job…do the customer’s a favor and find another job!

Ron
Ron
So, I have issues????? What in the world do you mean by that statement??? I was diagnosed with PTSD in 1996 after returning from Vietnam in 1972. I had absolutely no idea that I was afflicted with this but came to realize, with intensive treatment, what I deemed normal was indeed wrong for myself and anyone that I was married to or had interactions with. I did not bring up the 2 VA Centers that never diagnosed me at all or the VA Center I went to that did but did absolutely nothing for me. I did not think that… Read more »
FreddyMac
FreddyMac
My first appointment with the VA Shrink. I was early as usually with all my appointments but just like 20 mins. He was not there…he came in like15 mins late…fiddled with some papers….then call me in….sat me down and said he needed to go get something to drink….20 mins later he came in with food and a drink..he did apologize but really!!!!! I was going to snap on him but since my daughter was there I didn’t say a word……Has anyone experienced this? It has happened since but differently as they have been late and sneaking in the back…haha the… Read more »
figure8fan
FreddyMac, If you read my reply in this blog you will see that I too have had a similar situation. My Psych. would usually be an average of 10 minutes late and then he seemed to be more interested in messaging on his computer than listening to me. I would often hear that sound that a computer makes when someone would send him a message. I would take that opportunity to say something that should have been noted or at least get a response from him; however, not a thing. I don’t think he even heard what I was saying.… Read more »
Dennis Sutton
Dennis Sutton

I’m so surprised this is not a common place occurrence. It is sickening to have these hacks determine your life ability, and deny you, turn you down, all because they are getting kickbacks from the VA for every Vet they deny.

D. Toliver
D. Toliver
I hate to say this but I need too, many VA Psychiatrist/Psychologist that I have encountered at the Philadelphia and Coatesville Medical Centers are very nasty and disrespectful towards the Veterans they are their to serve. I have personally been told and heard over Psychologist at the Philadelphia/Coatesville VA Medical Center state that my PTSD was in my mind and get over it and when I reported them to the VA Directors, I was told “I have to understand that they have a very hard job in dealing with veterans”. In 2013 I was told by Dr. Donald Marcus, that… Read more »
figure8fan
D. Did you take this above the people in the local Dr’s who were telling you that they can make your life a living hell? Because you too can do the same. Go up the chain of command for the facility you are getting your help. Go up to the Director of that facility. If you do not get the results then contact everyone in the upper ranks up to Robert McDonald. If you let them know of your concerns and your treatment and not to mention that you have a “Patient Bill of Rights” you may get somewhere. I… Read more »
D. Toliver
D. Toliver
I took it two steps further because when I spoke with the Philadelphia/Coatesville Directors, I was told that I was not conforming and I said humbly thank you for your time and walked out of the ambush meeting with the directors and VA Police waiting near the conference room. I had an email already prepared for Sec. McDonald, OIG, President and CNN. After sending out all the emails I received a “Hot” telephone call and email from Under Sec Allison Hickey on November 28, 2014, to report to VAMC Durham for a C&P Exam on Dec 1, 2014 at 1300… Read more »
namnibor
I unfortunately see the VA’s reaction to this will be to systematically ensure our very right to own firearms are taken away if we have any Psy Diagnosis, esp. PTSD. It is unfortunate what happened but wasn’t this just an event waiting to happen because of the incredulous SUBSTANDARD PSY CARE we receive mostly, as Veterans? Why do I suggest that this is how the VA will respond and react? Because already, some of the first questions the VA have started asking Vets is if they have any firearms and where they are. Have read this occurring over the entire… Read more »
Niko
Niko

West Palm Beach, Florida VAMC…. A veteran went to the ” CRISIS INTERVENTION PROGRAM” sat with a counselor for over an hour…. walked into the hall…. pulled out a .38 Cal Revolver and blew his brains out in the hall. He didn’t wait to go outside, he didn’t go home. He committed suicide right there. And NOT a word in the media…. go figure ?

Belle78
Belle78

WOW Niko
You are so right we get looked over everyday-

stanman47
stanman47

There is no indication that he was denied treatment and no specific reason for his claim denial. This vet obviously needed help but we don’t know what his personal isses were (employment, financial or other). Tragic outcome regardless. People have definite opinions about why this happened, but more information is necessary before sound conclusions should be drawn. The psychologist should have reported the threat received at the store. Maybe that would have prevented the murder/suicide. Sad. Extremely sad.

Anthony
Anthony
This psychologist was a responsible, respectful man who was very well versed in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. This is a tragedy and this article takes an inappropriate stance that murdering someone equals verification of PTSD symptoms. Other diagnoses would be possible as well (e.g., Antisocial Personality Disorder, Paranoid Schizophrenia). This psychologist was a good human being dedicated to helping others. It is insulting to hear so many blaming the victim. Let’s support veterans adequately, AND those who are serving our country by treating our veterans. I grieve the loss of a colleague today.
Dan F
Dan F
Anthony, you are most likely a VA employee as you identified the psychologist as a colleague. Where you get “so many are blaming the victim”, is beyond me. In the article, Ben states we need to grieve for both the Psychologist and the veteran. Numerous commenters also echoed that sentiment. The majority of the balance of the comments were the personal stories of veterans, and how were treated within the VA system. I help veterans with PTSD claims. I have seen many reports from psychiatrists and psychologists (both treating and C & P examiners) where you must wonder who they… Read more »
Belle78
Belle78

Perfectly stated Dan F

John Smith
John Smith
I have been receiving excellent MH care from my facility. The problem is on the C&P side. I have to laugh because that is all I have left, humor. I originally went in to seek care for my trauma suffered during combat, to which I was an 11C1P (airborne mortars). The VA examiner told me that my ex wife was the cause of my traumatic memories. I about fell on the floor when she said that. “Your telling me that my eye witness to seeing people blown apart is a memory that my wife caused?” I have later figured out… Read more »
Denise
Denise
YES GI JANE AND GI JOE ( VA OIG AND IG) ITS ALL LIFE STRESSORS, GET STUFFED! THEY NEED TO DO A PROPER TEST AND FOR SOME AS IN MYSELF, A CANNOT WORK EXAM, NO JOKE, MEASURES HOW FAR I CAN TILT RIGHT OR LEFT, NOT TOLERATED WELL, KNOCK ON MY KNEES-“CLAIM DENIED? DAMN SLOPPY VA THAT ISNT AN EXAM THAT IS “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!” YES. SEVERE PAIN I PUSH THROUGH ALMOST 8 HOURS OF QUESTIONS, PARTNER SEES ME FADING SO HE REMINDS ME, SERIOUSLY ANOTHER DAMN TEST? SADLY BY THAT POINT ALL I SEE ARE LETTERS ON A PAPER… Read more »
AMERICAN SOLDIER
AMERICAN SOLDIER
The problem is our veterans are SUFFERING & DYING while BEGGING the VA FOR HELP. Veterans are losing all hope of getting HELP. More and more injured, sick and wounded veterans are hurting so badly, they see no way out except to take drastic action. The VA employees are still stealing all the BILLIONS of DOLLARS OF OUR TAXPAYERS’ MONEY that should be used to provide medical care and compensation for our disabled veterans! As of today, Wednesday, January 7, 2015, these VA Executives, VA Claims Processors and VA Lawyers are still mocking and mistreating our WOUNDED WARRIORS with their… Read more »
figure8fan

Agreed and well said.

AMERICAN SOLDIER
AMERICAN SOLDIER
My husband is a 68 year old Disabled American Veteran I recently called VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s cell phone. After getting voice mail, I left my name and number. Two days later, a member of Secretary McDonald’s staff, Erin Gittens returned my call. She looked at my husband file. His appeal for compensation has been backlogged at the Cleveland Regional Office since 2010 Erin Gittens promised to send an email to the Cleveland Regional Office inquiring about my husband’s claim. The very next day, we received a phone call from the Cleveland Regional Office. The gentleman’s name is Kevin Freedman.… Read more »
figure8fan
I know where you are coming from. I have been trying to get my claim figured since 2008. I was approved for an increase for my right knee and denied an increase for my left knee even though they both have the same condition, has worsened the same, have the same limitations that should get the increase (as it was approved for the right and denied for the left), everything in both knees should have the same rating. When I pressed for an answer to this (I am at the highest appeal except going to Washington DC. and pleading my… Read more »
bruce wallace
Kevin will be removed from his position, hopefully not simply transferred. He is a sociopath to treat you and your husband like that. I don’t think McDonald will let him get by with this. Scream loud and long till someone listens. Call McDonald again, email him too. Ben Krause has his email address here somewhere if you ask, if you don’t have it already. What an arrogant psycho! Wait, I meant to say, “vindictive bastard from hell.” The VA is out of control. God bless you and your husband; for what it’s worth, I am certain McDonald and his staff… Read more »
james

mam, you need to calls bob’s office again and tell them, what has happened since your last conversation with this employee, just the way you wrote it here. Some employees have it in their head that they are gods and can do as they please. Do not stop, Veterans need to march on Washington, I think you should also write to your congressman and keep a paper trail of what you are doing so in the future you can produce documation as evidence that you tried.

Doug
Doug

Ummm, All calls to and from the VA are recorded and that recording needs to be found! This is despicable to say the least and I hope you get justice for that!

bruce wallace
Terrible thing that happened when the vet shot the psychologist. There is no excuse for that, but what stands out to me is that the news article states that the FBI interviewed 400 witnesses. Do you wonder how many witnesses would have been interviewed if the veteran had of just killed himself at home? Maybe 4? I could not read any further after I got to that part. The VA is hopelessly messed up. Military historians and cultural anthropologists might cite research that shows how great and powerful nations (Rome?), dynasties (Ming) have fallen due to how they viciously exploited… Read more »
James
James
I am a Veteran with a non-combat version of PTSD due to personal trauma caused by a another service member which the trauma was magnified by the command by forcing me to work with a person I desired to kill. Since, I have never been the same and feel like I am constantly fighting a monster inside. I did not know exactly what PTSD was until 2 other veterans with the disorder let me know that I was having the same symptoms. I immediately understood that there was something I could do for myself through the VA, which was to… Read more »
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