Senators promise answers on I-Team report

Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan (Official photos)
May 21, 2012 3:10:24 PM PDT
Both of North Carolina's senators promise action after an ABC11 I-Team report on the deaths of U.S. troops blamed on "fatal drug intoxication."

"We will look into this in great detail - work with the military and the VA - to understand better the decisions that were made," said Senator Richard Burr - a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Click here to read the original report

The I-Team investigation uncovered cases where troops survived combat only to die at home while undergoing treatment for Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Stan and Shirley White told ABC11 that's how they lost their son Andrew.

"He died because of his PTSD, because of what he saw in the war zone. The medication is what killed him. We consider him as being a casualty of war," offered Stan White.

A medical examiner ruled Andrew died at 23 from fatal drug intoxication. He was taking prescribed and non-prescribed medication before his death, and the autopsy report says that could have been a factor in his death.

But the Whites said they believe Andrew died of over-medication while under the care of government and private doctors.

"We call it the lethal cocktail. It's antidepressants, antipsychotics and analgesics. It's just overloading, and your body can't take it," said Stan White.

The Whites said Andrew was taking Seroquel, Klonopin, and Paxil. They still have the pills prescribed by Veteran's Administration doctors to treat Andrew's post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Was there any chance he was over-medicating himself?" we asked the Whites.

"No. He was taking exactly what the VA told him to take," said Shirley.

"You were giving him the medication every day?" we asked.

"I was giving him the medication," she responded.

"He made that choice to trust the VA and that trust cost him his life," she continued.

John and Mary Nahas told ABC11 the medication prescribed for PTSD made their son Michael attempt suicide after he returned from Iraq.

"Look at all the drugs they had him on," Mary said, showing ABC11 cameras a list that includes Oxycodone, Xanax, Percocet, Klonopin, Celexa, Lunesta, and Ambien.

"I ran the list of medications by my niece - who was a psychologist in a psychiatric hospital - and she said: 'Oh Mary, that's a cocktail of death, they're trying to kill him,'" said Mary.

Dr. Fred Baughman, a California neurologist, told ABC11 he's discovered more than 300 similar cases. He worked with veteran advocates to create a list of deaths linked to sudden cardiac arrest that was compiled from news reports.  He did not have access to medical files.

"I came to the conclusion that these were somehow unique, unusual deaths. Young men in their 20s don't just die in their sleep," offered Baughman.

In the wake of our I-Team report, Senator Kay Hagan said she will also take action on the issue.

"I want to do everything possible to be sure that our soldiers get the best treatment and care," she said.

Hagan is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"It is a very serious issue. I compliment you on doing this investigation. This is an issue that really has raised a lot of attention even up to Secretary Panetta's level," she said.

Both military families who spoke with ABC11 for the original report told us they are glad the senators are taking action. They hope it leads to immediate results.

"We need something done right now. There's too many soldiers dying," said Mary Nahas.

Stan White said he has spoken to members of Congress in the past but got little response. Now, the father - whose son went to Iraq with Camp Lejeune Marines - said he'll be watching closely to see how the issue unfolds on Capitol Hill.

"Studies, I think, don't need to be done. I think we need some action. We do appreciate what you are working on," he said.

"I have a feeling that when all this comes out in the wash, we're going to find that this was huge," said Nahas.

Senator Hagan said the military has recently hired another 1,600 mental health workers and right now, there are about 20,000 mental health workers at the Department of Defense.

The senators said they will stay in touch about their efforts in Washington.

"We're committed to find the course in the future that might eliminate this risk for any service members ever again," said Burr.

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