Ketamine, suicidal veterans and the San Diego VA

The veteran suicide rate in 2017 was about 28 per 100,000 veterans — a noticeable difference when compared to the national average of 18 per 100,000 people.

For several years, dozens of San Diego veterans with treatment-resistant depression relied on ketamine to ease their symptoms and curb their suicidal impulses.

The San Diego VA in October 2019 began pulling these men and women off ketamine to put them on an alternative drug called Spravato.

inewsource began investigating the VA’s decision in May. We’ve since found the agency lied about its reasons behind taking veterans off the drug and ignored advice and warnings about the repercussions.

One retired Navy and Marine pilot who’d been receiving the treatment wrote in an email before taking her own life that the VA’s decision had pushed her over the edge. 

Marine Capt. Jodi Maroney talks to avionics specialists before performing a communications check on a CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopter, on an air base in the Gulf region, shortly before the United States invasion of Iraq. (Julie Jacobson/AP/Shutterstock)

Several veterans at various stages in their transition off ketamine want to share their stories with the public. They’d like to provide a first-hand look at how they’re grappling with a sometimes crippling psychiatric disorder while having to fight for their own healthcare within the VA system.

Reporter Brad Racino and photojournalist Zoë Meyers have teamed up to tell these stories in a series we’re calling Veterans Voices.

The series include accounts of veterans suffering from suicidal thoughts. Those who read, hear or listen to the pieces should know help is available. 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

Join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter: #VAketamine.

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Email reporter Jill Castellano

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The story of Kiaya Bender

The 29-year-old Marine veteran has just a handful of ketamine treatments left before transitioning to the San Diego VA for Spravato.

The story of Joel Andrews

The Army veteran has tried and failed with Spravato and is now receiving a lower dose of ketamine from the San Diego VA.

The story of AJ Williams

“So now, here I am, in the biggest battle of my military career, fighting for not only my life but for the lives of my fellow veterans across the state and country who may be facing this same situation.”

The story of Larry McMinn

“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.”