The VA Mental HealthCare System is Failing Me…and My Baby.


The pregnancy test flashed a positive sign on a Wednesday.

Two days later, a Friday, I was sitting in front of the nurse practitioner at the Cedar Park VA Outpatient Clinic, waiting patiently for the lab to confirm what EPT had already told me. When the confirmation came, there was a congratulations, a D.O.D standard “Guide to Pregnancy” book placed in my lap, and instructions from my primary care doc to stop all of my medications immediately. No Clonazepam, no Fluoxetine (Prozac) and no Lamictal. I left the clinic with these words and a promise from the nurse practitioner: “I’m going to see Dr. A once she’s done with her current patient and find out what she recommends, ok? She’ll be able to give you the proper guidance on what to do about your medications, being that she’s your psychiatrist. I’ll call you as soon as I speak with her.”

Friday afternoon came and went. No phone call.

Sunday afternoon came and I had already started to notice my mood shifting and withdrawals setting in.

Monday morning: I called and was put on hold. Left a voicemail. Called two hours later, left yet another voicemail with the nurse for the my primary care doc. Called back and tried to leave a voicemail for my psychiatrist and was unable to-the phone just rang without an answer. “She’s in the office, ma’am, how about I take the message for you?” said the vet volunteer working the front desk. Ok. Left the message. Checked my phone obsessively for the rest of the day-nothing.

Tuesday morning: Called back-left more messages. Nothing.

I spent the rest of that week freaking out from med withdrawal and anxiety over what to do. Fed up with the lack of response on the VA front, Bertski and I decided that finding outside, non-VA care was the way to go, even if we had to pay out-of-pocket until I was verified as a dependent under his insurance at work. A recommendation from a friend led me to Austin Area OBGYN and my new OB. I made an appointment, and even though it was weeks away, I was able to speak to a nurse about my medications. Within an hour I had more informed guidance: “Dr. S says you can continue to take the Prozac, but not the Clonazepam. He says that while Lamictal is relatively safe to take during pregnancy, he would prefer you to try to stay off of it until the end of your first trimester-the incident of a birth defect like cleft palate forming with Lamictal is very, very low, but he always advises staying off of it the first 12 weeks just to be even more cautious. HOWEVER if you feel yourself start to struggle and you feel you need to start taking it sooner, just let us know, and we can work with that, ok? Come in for lab work tomorrow so we can see how far along you are, ok, honey?”

I don’t think I’ve ever breathed a larger sigh of relief than I did when I hung up the phone with her. Later that day, when I checked my mailbox, there was a “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PREGNANCY!” package from the Women’s VA Health Clinic in Temple. (Note: all of the VA outpatient clinics & hospitals in Central TX are all spread out-there’s one in Austin, Cedar Park, Temple, Waco and Bryan College Station.) There was nothing from my primary care doc or psych in Cedar Park, and I still had not received a phone call returning my messages as promised 7 days prior. I threw the package in the trash, completely disgusted.

That next Monday it came-an appointment card from the clinic in Cedar Park telling me I had an upcoming appointment with my psych. I laughed-it wasn’t the first time this had happened-her just scheduling an appointment instead of actually returning my messages, but I thought being pregnant would have warranted her actually making the effort to call me. (What’s faster-a phone call or the mail? The mail, OBVIOUSLY!)

I went into that appointment on March 28th ready to give her the benefit of the doubt. I left vowing to no longer allow her to be in charge of my care.

Um…why didn’t you call me back? I’ve been waiting to find out what to do.

“I did call you-I didn’t get an answer.”

Um…no you didn’t-I don’t have any voicemail from you and I’ve watched my phone like a hawk waiting to hear from you.

“Well, I called, if you didn’t get it, that’s not my problem. Anyway, in my opinion, someone in your condition getting pregnant is just irresponsible.”

What?

“I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be on any medication-you need to give your baby the best & healthiest start possible. Taking medication in my opinion is causing your baby harm.”

What if I have an episode during the pregnancy? What about postpartum psychosis? My OB said Lamictal and Prozac are safe!

“Well, I don’t agree with that. All of the research says otherwise…these are things you should have considered before getting pregnant.”

WHAT research? Everything I’ve read and what Dr. S has told me is the complete opposite of what you’re saying. The incidence of the birth defects associated with these two meds is very low, I’ve read this myself…there are women with epilepsy who take Lamictal at much higher doses-

“So are you just going to go with what he’s saying? Fine. Do you need psychotherapy? Individual therapy isn’t available through the VA here, but I can see if the social worker here at this location is available-I doubt it though-she doesn’t do therapy.”

I left that office shaking from the anger surging within me. That was it. Bertski and I agreed that day to no longer have anything to do with her-I’d try to find a private psychiatrist or have my care transferred to a new one at the Austin clinic. Her misinformation and lack of knowledge just wasn’t acceptable, and besides-it wasn’t the first time I’d had problems with her lack of communication and dismissive attitude. It’s what played a significant role in my being hospitalized back in October. Fed up with her neglect and lack of professionalism? Yeah, understatement if there ever was one.

I’ve spent the 6 weeks since then struggling to manage my symptoms while dealing with the yuck of the first trimester, Alex’s autism and SPD diagnosis and entrance into therapy, searching for a therapist who accepts our insurance (or has an affordable self-pay option), and pushing myself to hold on until the 12 week mark, which is tomorrow. I’ve also been working with the women’s health outreach specialist to get a new psych through the VA, at the Austin clinic. They’re so backed up, she put in the consult 6 weeks ago, and it’s still pending. (She was, however able to secure the authorization necessary to have the VA cover my prenatal care and delivery so I don’t have to pay out-of-pocket or use Bertski’s insurance which only covers a certain amount-so at least that’s a win.)

I called the VA pharmacy in Waco to have my Lamictal and Prozac refilled today (since I only have a 10 day supply left of both) ONLY to find out that they’ve been discontinued thanks to Dr. A. DISCONTINUED. She discontinued my medications and did so without informing me. No correspondence, no phone call, no explanation. NOTHING.

Needless to say I’m enraged. Even more so than I was before because instead of just jeopardizing MY health, she’s jeopardizing that of the baby’s and that has me wanting to FIGHT. Fight for my right to better treatment, and fight because, well, WHO THE FUCK IS SHE TO DO THIS TO A PATIENT?! Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see how any of this is ethical.

I’ve spent the morning making phone calls to file complaints and to even try to get ahold of her and the director of the clinic to no avail. She’s not answering her phone (of course) and the director is on vacation until May 17th. The women’s health specialist is aware of what’s going on and assured me she’s going to do something to “fix” things, but honestly, I don’t even TRUST anything VA related anymore. This infuriates me because as those of you who have been reading here since 2011 know, my psych at the VA hospital in Philadelphia was AMAZING, as was the mental health clinic and psychotherapy services there.

I’m a 100% service connected disabled veteran. I’m pregnant. I have a mood disorder. I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of treatment. I shouldn’t be scouring Austin looking for a therapist because the VA here doesn’t offer separate, individualized psychotherapy therapy for women in my situation. (Or women period-When I discharged from the hospital in October, I was told repeatedly that they just have general support groups-nothing specialized or one on one for women.) I also know that I can’t be the only woman vet in the Central TX region who has had to deal with this pathetic system and its inadequacies. But outside of reporting her, what else can I do? I don’t just want her reported, I WANT HER AND OTHER VA DOCTORS HERE INFORMED. Informed on medications and treatment for women with mood disorders during pregnancy. Trained. Educated. I want better for my fellow women vets. Since moving here I have encountered nothing but poor treatment and bureaucracy. The Central TX VA Healthcare System has done nothing but inhibit my ability to have consistent, quality, and effective mental health care.

What can I do y’all? How do I fight this so that they stop failing myself and others?

************

Update: I spoke with the women’s health outreach specialist, and she informed me that my meds were discontinued because the VA doesn’t want to assume any liability if something happens to the baby as a result of my being on psychiatric medications. Per the Chief Medical Director of the Women’s Health Clinic in Temple, TX: “The VA can’t assume responsibility for anything that may happen as a result of her staying on these medications during her pregnancy. Our psychiatrists are not experts in this area whereas a private obstetrician is. If he says these medications are safe for her to take during her pregnancy and he will write her a prescription for them, then she can bring that prescription to the VA pharmacy in Austin and we can fill them that way. If something were to happen, then this private OB is the one responsible, not the VA. Unfortunately this is what we have to do in situations such as this.”

So. There you have it. The VA has practically rid themselves of me during my pregnancy due to my having a psychiatric condition and I’m suddenly a liability concern. Question: WHY aren’t VA psychiatrists educated in reproductive psychiatry when women veterans comprise at least 10% of the veteran population and have children and are suffering from mental health issues like PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, Depression, Anxiety, and others as a result of their fighting in combat and service?

Now what?

*************

Update #2: Several of YOU helped me flood The Department of Veteran Affairs twitter feed, sharing my angry tweets and this post with them and others like the local Fox News station here and even Rachel Maddow! At 5:29pm I received this response from their Twitter account: “@addyeB Dismayed by what happened. I’ll make sure the patient advocate in Austin hears about this.” Not sure if this will actually lead to effective action, but I’ll keep putting on the pressure until it does. If you’d like to help me apply that pressure directly to this patient advocate at the Austin clinic, comment here or email me! bconfessions at gmail dot com. Thank you for supporting me through this!

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19 thoughts on “The VA Mental HealthCare System is Failing Me…and My Baby.

  1. as someone who works in the pharmaceutical world, my advice to you is listen to your ob, ob’ s no better than any other type of doctor what is and is not safe to take while pregnant. your psychiatrist sounds like a class a bitch, I hope when you know for sure that you’re covered under bertskie’s insurance you can find someone better. I would have told her right then and there to fuck off.

  2. Ugh, that sounds just awful. What a horrible, frustrating experience. Instead of being treated like a human, with a very real life and feelings, you were treated like a SITUATION. That’s what struck me the most, reading this. You put yourself out there in expressing your needs, and weren’t listened to. How awful. I’m perplexed as to why this psychiatrist treated you so coldly.

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  4. So, a woman suffering from mental health illness is irresponsible for falling pregnant, even if she’s married and wanted this child? How is this any different from a woman who suffers from high blood pressure? Is she also irresponsible for putting her unborn baby at risk with pre-eclampsia or does this now qualify as a medical issue? There’s a lot of work to be done Ady…. A lot. You don’t deserve to be going through this hell when it’s ‘supposed to be the happiest time of you life’. xoxo

    • You’re right-there IS a lot of work to be done,and trust me when I say I plan on putting in the work that’s needed so that this changes. TRUST. Thank you mama 🙂

  5. This makes me so angry for you. You faithfully served our country, and this is the thanks that you get. That psychiatrist needs to treat you like a human being. You are advocating for both yourself and your baby. You have both of your interests at heart. If she would have taken the time to truly listen, you would not have to had to jump through all these hoops.

  6. This is just a bunch of crap. I can’t believe she said that to you. Unbelievable! I’m floored that they would treat a human being that way. I’m here – gonna fight for you and your mini me

  7. I was just seen at this same clinic by same person and got similar treatment. She discontinued Setraline without telling me and order blood and urine tests without telling me. She did not want to listed to me so I knew she was a kook right away. I wasn’t even there for a problem, but because my main physician said he had to discontinue a very small dosage of loramzepam and to restart I would have to see this person. She basically was rude and discontinued medications prescribed (that have worked well for years) without telling me and took the tests w/o telling me what they were for, I felt violated, institutionalized, and offended. She must be doing the same thing to war vets.

    • BTW I’m a man and was not pregnant. Also this was the first time I’ve seen a Psy in my life (eerie feeling BTW, will not do that again). She asked me rudely if I was getting the loramzapam (sp) other places as well (not all persons that take anxiety meds are drug addicts quite the opposite). I take it only occasionally 0.5 mg wherein I read that 2 to 6 mg is typical dose. They are acting that psychotropic (sp) drugs can only be prescribed by a psy. Well wiki it. I know some may abuse this, but she was having none of it and even discontinued my sertraline (Zoloft). She had a big rock on her shoulder and is evidently enjoying controlling persons meds and is acting like you are still under the institution that drove you to these meds in the first place. Looks like I will go outside the VA back to the doctors that first prescribed these and to doctors that treat you with respect. I am very sorry for others that must go there and do not have the means to go elsewhere. I like the general practitioners there. Note that if she was really concerned I had an addiction, the care is to slowly reduce off of the drug. Instead she did not care to allow this (as that prescription was discontinued) and even discontinued the Zoloft. Hmmmm. Standard of care???

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