inewsource’s Veterans Voices series features first-person accounts from veterans suffering from depression who are being taken off an effective drug treatment by the San Diego VA. This post is from 51-year-old Navy veteran Larry McMinn and was lightly edited by inewsource:
I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and I got into medicine when I was in high school. At first I worked in a nursing home for a year, and then when I turned 16 I moved over to one of the major hospitals in Lubbock and worked there until I was 20. I applied to go to nursing school and got accepted. But I was looking at four years and I really didn’t like living in Lubbock.
So I just happened to be driving by the Navy recruiter’s office and stopped by. Maybe they could pay for some of my training to become a nurse, and I wouldn’t have to go through four years of school and be stuck in Lubbock.
I went to boot camp in September 1989 in San Diego. From boot camp I immediately went to hospital corpsman school in San Diego, and after that I was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for surgical technician school.
From there I transferred to the Oakland Naval Hospital in California, another teaching hospital, and was a surgical tech in OBGYN, plastic surgery and general surgery. They had me transferred from there to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, where I worked in what we call the surgical training lab.
I’ve probably been depressed most of my life. My first suicide attempt was in seventh grade, and I didn’t get treatment for that. Basically, my father told me to suck it up and carry on, and I rarely, rarely discussed anything about my depression with anyone.
I became very good at hiding it when I was around people. Because back then, the stigma of a depressed person, especially one that had tried to commit suicide several times, was really bad and just had a negative impact on relationships or friendships or meeting just random people who would find out. It was like I was damaged or something. It was just easier not to let anybody see.
Suicide prevention help
If you are having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240. Other resources are available here.
In 2003, it became so bad that I was having not only depression but I was having some PTSD issues, some flashback issues and severe panic attacks to the point that I was admitted to the hospital.
The doctors recommended that I be put on permanent disability because of these severe depression, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, PTSD. So I was approved for Social Security disability in 2003 and I also applied for VA disability. It took several years, but it eventually got to be 100% service-connected disability through the VA for my depression.
It’s really hard to describe how it is. You just don’t have the energy to do anything. I would spend days in bed, and it got to the point that it was so bad that I wouldn’t even leave the house. The only time I left the house was to go to my doctor’s appointments or if I had to run an errand. I got to the point where I had groceries delivered. Everything was delivered to the house. I ordered it all online.
It would be weeks at a time before I would even leave my apartment. I was just always depressed. I’m diagnosed with major depression along with the PTSD and panic attacks and anxiety. But it sort of paralyzes you because you want to do things but you just don’t have the physical energy. For some reason, the brain just doesn’t allow your body to do simple things like take a shower. I wouldn’t prepare meals for days at a time.
It’s a debilitating disease for people, and unfortunately it isn’t discussed enough and people don’t understand how crippling it really is to have a disease like this prevent you from living. I mean, every single day suicide crossed my mind multiple times. I would just get to the point that I would just rather die than live. It’s painful in my head. And unfortunately it’s not like I can describe, you know, pain like a sprained ankle or a broken leg or whatever. It’s a different type of pain.
It really does make life unbearable. You can’t enjoy anything. You don’t have concentration. I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t read. I like doing crafts, and I couldn’t do crafts.
Then I started my ketamine treatments, and the depression went away. If you scored it from zero to 30, zero being not depressed to 30 being depressed for almost 30 years, I was anywhere from 20 to 30 on the list, which is super high. And then after the ketamine, the first dose, I felt better. The more ketamine treatments I had, the better I felt. I don’t understand the dynamics of it.
Luckily I have Dr. David Feifel, the best in the country as the provider for my ketamine treatments, because since June 2018 I’m having to learn how a normal person lives. Someone that has energy. Someone that can do crafts again. Someone that cooks. Someone that goes out in public. Somebody that’s social. Somebody that showers regularly. Somebody that gets out of bed every day and does something and gets something accomplished.
It’s amazing to feel normal. I never want to go back to the depression. But with what’s going on with the VA, it is just almost unbearable. My depression is coming back, even though I’m having the ketamine treatments. It’s mainly due to the stress and the things I feel, like I have to fight for everything I need. I shouldn’t have to fight for something that I need.
My last appointment at Dr. Feifel’s Kadima Neuropsychiatry Institute in La Jolla is set for Sept. 17, after which I will be pulled back to the VA for dramatically reduced doses.
My body is not handling the stress very well after hearing the other veterans’ stories about the treatment regimens at the VA. I am suffering from rashes all over my body, high blood pressure and even a visit to the emergency room for chest pain due to the elevation in blood pressure. As a 100 percent service-connected veteran, I should not be stressing over my health care.
I’ve spoken to my attending psychiatrist at the VA. As it stands, I will not have to endure the six treatments of Spravato (an alternative drug for treating depression) in order to migrate to ketamine. It looks like they have finally realized it is not working for the patients who have already received higher doses of ketamine therapy.
I feel like my mental health care has gone from a joint venture of myself, my attending psychiatrist and Kadima, to a dictatorship under the VA. I have no voice in the management of my healthcare. When I ultimately transfer in September, I’m looking at a 65% dose reduction. I have made it clear to all those concerned that this is astoundingly medically irresponsible.