Soldiers' emotional battle scars put doctors in dilemma

Tim Juneman went to a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist in January 2008 to talk about his recurrent thoughts of suicide.

The 25-year-old Washington State University student was an Iraq war veteran who had survived a year of tough fighting that left him with a twin diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.

His biggest worry, according to notes taken by the VA psychiatrist, was a looming call back to active duty by the Washington National Guard. The order would have sent the specialist back to Iraq.

A VA psychiatrist hospitalized Juneman but never notified the National Guard unit of his patient’s distress over redeployment. Juneman was released that month, then missed follow-up appointments.

In early March 2008, Juneman hanged himself in his Pullman apartment. His body was discovered some 20 days later, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported.

His death underscores an unsettling new reality for VA health-care providers. Unlike in decades past, they now often treat veterans headed back to war. And this can pose an ethical challenge for VA doctors if they think PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other unhealed wounds could put a patient or others at greater risk on the front line.

Confidentiality rules generally prevent them from informing active-duty commanders of a veteran’s medical problems, unless the veteran signs a release.

Read more about this very troubling dilemma in The Seattle Times.

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