Help wanted. Help needed. Help sought. None found. 

Child abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, military service, service-connected disabilities, high-stress jobs, debilitating injuries, chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder…stuff.

I’ve got issues. Who doesn’t? I earned mine the hard way, by that I mean as victim or observer or worse, but sadly, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, not all of the time. Most of the time, I’m able to deal with all of my issues without professional assistance, but sometimes not. Recently, I found myself wanting/needing mental health advice, and sought that advice from the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Clinic in Daytona Beach, FL. What I found instead, was that I’d live through a personal nightmare, and live to regret ever asking the VA for help.

Having tried sixteen years earlier to engage my family in an honest discussion about the events that split apart  our relationships with one another–an attempt that failed almost completely–I was drawn to make a second attempt to restart/reset the conversation. My one reservation was simple, and complicated. I didn’t know with any certainty whether I was strong enough–mentally and emotionally–to risk the personal gains I’d made since my last effort fell apart.

Last April, I entered the VA Medical Clinic, and soon exited sanity…my own, and of the world I was thrown into.

I spoke directly with four employees of the VA Clinics’ mental health staff, informing them of my past, my plans, and requested advice on the wisdom of, and my preparedness for, such an undertaking.

I’ve got issues…some are with my family…I’d like to resolve some…worried about getting dragged down…I’d like to talk to a Counselor or make an appointment…Pretty please?

All went well with the first three employees I spoke with, including a psychologist, and all three asked the questions that I expected them to ask, with no signs of alarm regarding my answers. All three even asked the  question that sealed my fate with the fourth and last employee I spoke with, the counselor/nurse practitioner. All four of them had heard or would hear the same answer.

“Have you had any thoughts of harming yourself or others?”

I replied that, of course I had. Hadn’t everyone? Thankfully, never with the plan or intent to act on that thought. My reply, once uttered, jumped up and bit me in the ass. The counselor asked more questions, I gave more answers, and before I knew it, I was crazy. Right after that, I knew I was screwed. I was confined in a room, under constant supervision, with an armed guard outside the door. I was shocked. I was nervous, Most of all, I knew I was crazy to have asked for help.

Shortly thereafter, I would find that as bad as things were, they’d soon get much worse. The Daytona Beach VA Clinic doesn’t have its own mental health inpatient treatment facility. After confinement at the VA Clinic, I was transferred, in the back of a marked sherriff’s patrol car to nearby Halifax Medical Center and booked into their Detention Facility.

My efforts to ascertain why, and more importantly, how this was happening to me were almost totally unsuccessful in real terms. My questions, which were numerous, had only drawn one simple response from the VA Staff: “You’ve been Baker Acted.”

Later, at the Detention Facility, a psychiatrist came by to ‘speak to me’ about my fate, explaining that the State of Florida had passed a law, The Baker Act, which allows authorities and medical workers to place any individual they choose into involuntary confinement at an inpatient mental health facility for a period of seventy-two hours. There is no way to fight it, and there are systems in place to extend the incarceration indefinitely, at the doctor’s request…period.

After placing one-hundred-percent of the blame on the State, the VA and the Baker Act, he ordered me confined to their inpatient facility, explaining that I should try to relax and make the best of it. He’d give me a pill.

‘Make the best’ out of myself, my wife and family being freaked out with little or no explanation. To shift the confinement burden from the VA and the State, they asked my wife to sign a document ‘requesting’ my confinement. Also, they suggested she should persuade me to take a pill.

‘Make the best’ out of being deprived of my freedom. I had done nothing wrong, committed no crime, not been charged; all I did was seek advice. But, I could take a pill.

‘Make the best’ out of nearly all my questions about my rights as a patient falling on deaf ears. The response of nurses at the facility to my queries was to continually brush me off: “You’ll have to ask your doctor.” Yes, the same doctor who’d earlier informed me that I was screwed, and that I was screwed by the VA, the State of Florida, and the Baker Act. He knew this, and I’d better accept it, he said, because he’d seen it happen to veterans in Daytona Beach on a daily basis. Also, I needed to take a pill.

‘Make the best’ out of the minimal rights I had being denied and/or violated. I had the right to be comfortable, so I asked for a blanket and a pillow and was told–and this is a direct quote–“Pillows are hard to come by.” I had the right to a ‘family meeting’ to discuss my case and treatment, however, upon making that request, the nurse replied, “Your doctor doesn’t participate in those types of meetings.” Though, it might help if I took a pill.

They almost convinced my family that I was crazy, telling them that I’d been examined by two psychiatrists and a social worker. I hadn’t, and fortunately, a nurse confirmed that fact for them. The doctor who’d ordered my confinement stopped by to examine me with the social worker. He was called out of the room almost immediately. Two minutes later, that same doctor called the social worker out of my room as well. That was it. So, what did happen? The nurse explained to me and my family that these two individuals had reviewed, and accepted the notes from the VA nurse practitioner. As for the other psychiatrist, well, he’d simply stopped by and signed off on their handiwork. I’d never even laid eyes on him, or he on me, and this was all normal and totally routine. And, yes, I REALLY needed to take a pill.

‘Make the best’ out of being forced to provide my identification AND health insurance information to intake personnel at the hospital, while surrounded by six armed law enforcement officers. When I declined this request, the officers stepped closer, and the intake employee took the information from my wallet. Was I actually going to have to pay for my own confinement?

I’d had enough. I sought legal and private medical assistance, and, though my case was on the docket for the next day’s Coo-Coo Court, I gained my release as the seventy-two-hour authority to confine me expired.

What a nightmare. But it wasn’t over. The VA had, and still has more to share. I started getting calls from the VA: voice messages, appointment reminders. I cancelled all VA mental health appointments. I instructed them to cease calling me, and was informed that they could not stop, because I had been placed on a list of ‘high risk patients’ and the calls were mandatory, for at least ninety days, and no, I could not be removed from the list, by anyone. To this day, I get bi-weekly cards in the mail from the VA with assurances that I am not alone, along with the phone number to the VA Mental Health Crisis Hotline.

Having regaled you with my tale of woe, I’ll leave you to ponder two questions, and one really disturbing observation:

What good is asking, have you had any thoughts of harming yourself or others?

Wouldn’t a better question be, have you specifically planned, or taken any action to harm yourself or others?

Lastly, when I arrived at the hospital, and during my time in confinement, I saw many, many veterans who were shocked and confused to find themselves locked up, having little or no understanding of how their lives turned upside-down.

D.R. Stiff Bio PicBorn Donald Ray Stiff on 9/22/1964 in Houston, Harris County, TX, but raised in Pasadena, TX. He attended Private (Catholic) School K-8, Public High School 78-82, departed Texas in May 1988 and has traveled extensively. Well educated with an extensive background, Mr. Stiff is a Subject Matter Expert in many areas.

Writer, Senior Federal Air Marshal (Retired), Department of the Navy, US Marine Corps Civilian Servant, United States Marine Traffic Control Supervisor, United States Marine Security Guard.

Most notably of course, he is husband to Silvana, father to Tina, Andrea, and Rose, sucker to all dogs. And grandpa to Rylan Alexander.