The secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, responded that the group therapy program was being “rebranded,” not ended. But he also questioned the effectiveness of group therapy for veterans with PTSD.
“Despite the popularity and long history of support groups as routine care for veterans with PTSD and trauma exposure, there is no strong evidence that this modality is an effective treatment,” Wilkie said in a letter to Lieu.
Dov Simens said he was “playing Rambo” in a homeless camp on Wilshire Boulevard 34 years ago when he stumbled on a therapy group for combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Through weekly sessions on the West Los Angeles veterans campus, Simens, 75, a member of the military’s secretive Phoenix interrogation and assassination program in Vietnam, was able to marry, have children and buy a house in Sherman Oaks, he said.
Buoyed by his success, he took a break. But anger and depression drove him back to the “group of my peers.”
“I have PTSD and I know that there is no cure,” Simens said. “There is no pill or opioid that will make what I did disappear.”
Now he and other veterans say the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has soured on long-term therapy and started dismantling the West L.A. PTSD program, which has helped thousands of former service members heal the invisible wounds of war.
Before August, about 20 groups, each with five to 30 members, had been meeting on the medical campus for a total of 40 hours a week of therapy, said Leslie Martin, the former PTSD therapy program director. The combat veterans group shut down this fall after refusing the VA’s order to move to cramped quarters with no privacy, she added.
Two other groups have stopped meeting or relocated since summer; others merged and participation is dropping, Martin said. Martin filed a whistleblower complaint over the service reductions before retiring last month. The complaint accused the VA of reassigning her to work as a clerk as retaliation for her support of veterans protesting the changes.