Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
VA leaves Pasco Vietnam veterans group feeling abandoned
Eleven Vietnam vets in group therapy feel abandoned when the VA breaks them up.
By William R. Levesque, Time Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2008
Marine Charlie Kelley, 64, says it is a slap in the face the way the VA treats Vietnam War vets like him needing care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
[Special to the Times (1967)]
They returned from an unpopular war without band or bunting. Ugly jungle memories followed them home from Vietnam.
In New Port Richey, 11 Vietnam veterans met weekly for three years to help each other cope. They bonded, helping each other live with the war's aftereffects and struggles of everyday life. But in a scene that some veteran advocates say is being played out across the nation, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs counselor abruptly broke up the group in November, leaving the men stunned.
Members - called Group 11 by the VA - say they were told by the counselor that the VA was simply overwhelmed with the ever-increasing numbers of veterans needing care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"I feel absolutely betrayed," said Charlie Kelley, a 64-year-old Tampa Bay-area resident, former combat Marine and group member. "When we came back from Vietnam, we were ostracized. We did our duty but instead of gaining respect, we lost it. The same thing is happening again. It's a slap in the face."
VA regional spokesman John Pickens denied the agency was overwhelmed. Instead, he said what happened to Group 11 eventually happens to all therapeutic groups.
"At some point, you move on to other types of therapy," Pickens said. "It's got nothing to do with resources. It's a clinical decision."
Pickens said the 11 veterans were offered options, including different therapy sessions. Some were offered one-on-one therapy, he said.
But Kelley said one of the two groups meets only twice a month, and the other starts at 8 a.m., a bad time for men suffering from sleep disorders. In both cases, he said, other members would have a hard time opening up to strangers, their group bond lost.
Group 11 now meets privately at a Pasco restaurant without a counselor. But some of the men say they feel lost and PTSD symptoms - sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, anger, coping skills, among others - are worse.
"What the VA did is immoral," said Kelley, who hopes publicity will lead a counselor to volunteer services for Group 11.
Veteran advocates say more Vietnam veterans than ever are seeking treatment, perhaps because of greater awareness of PTSD.
"Essentially, the return of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is squeezing the VA's ability to treat veterans from earlier wars," said Tom Berger, chairman of the National PTSD and Substance Abuse Committee for Vietnam Veterans of America.
The Times failed in repeated efforts to arrange an interview with VA officials in Washington to ask if PTSD therapy groups were being curtailed nationally or in Florida, home to 1.7-million veterans.
Pickens said there is no trend at the VA to cut treatment. In fact, the VA says it is increasing resources, hiring more mental health professionals, spending more money.
"Our goal is to help all veterans recover from PTSD, regardless of place or time of service," the local VA said in a statement.
The Times interviewed three members of Group 11. But only Kelley agreed to be identified for this story. The other two said they feared retaliation by the VA and the loss of benefits if they talked to the media.
Kelley said he and other members attempted to get the VA to reinstate Group 11. On Dec. 20, the group wrote a letter to the chief medical officer of the VA's Pasco outpatient clinic.
"We have all tried to deal with this devastating event as best we could," the letter said. "But we have come to realize that the group was our main line of defense."
William Miller, chief medical officer of the clinic, wrote back, "It is the opinion of our Mental Health Section that Group 11 has met their maximum therapeutic benefit."
Kelley and others said they found the Jan. 7 letter insulting. They said it implied that they somehow had been cured.
And the letter appears to contradict patient progress notes by the counselor that say an "increasing number of Vietnam veterans" required a change in how the VA could accommodate Kelley.
The VA said it could not speak about an individual patient's case.
Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said that since 2001, more Vietnam veterans have sought PTSD treatment than all veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Sullivan, whose group is suing the VA to provide better mental health care, said the VA always maintains it has enough resources. In reality, he said, it sometimes appears resources are possibly being diverted to newer veterans at the expense of Vietnam-era soldiers.
"For some veterans, PTSD will require a lifetime of care," said Sullivan. "The VA should never pit one generation of veterans against another."
Kelley said all veterans, whatever era, deserve treatment.
"Our group was almost like a living thing," Kelley said. "We trusted one another completely. To just up and drop that was devastating."