NewsChannel 3 questions VA Secretary Shinseki about mental health during Hampton visit

Posted at 7:21 PM, Sep 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-05 19:21:34-04

Hampton, Va. - The Hampton VA Medical Center had its first ever mental health summit and many veterans were there to share their stories.

Rebecca Dryden served for 23 years in the Air Force, stationed at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks, and bombed during her time serving in Iraq.

Those memories eventually came back to haunt her after retirement.

“For about six months, I was dealing with nightmares and panic attacks on my own,” said Dryden. “It’s because of the VA Medical Center I’m getting help.”

Rebecca started intensive PTSD therapy, meeting with psychiatrists at the Hampton VA up to three times a week to help deal with her traumatic experiences.

Now, 20 months later...”I’m better,” says Dryden. “My panic attacks used to be 15 a day, now they are about 2 a week, so you talk about huge quality of life, my quality of life is so much better.”

Rebecca was one of the grateful veterans who shared her story to a crowd of more than 100 at the mental health summit.

One of those in attendance was the Secretary of the VA himself, Eric Shinseki.

“Seeking help for wounds of war is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength,” said Shinseki.

NewsChannel 3 is hearing from older veterans who served in wars past, who seek that help, but don’t get the treatment they need.

“Treatment? There is no treatment,” said Ronald Rytter, a retired Air Force veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD by the Hampton VA in 2006.

He couldn't sleep, he was kept awake by memories of Vietnam, and the effects of the napalm bombs he helped build.

“When you see trucks, people on fire and running, that really gets you,” said Rytter, who last saw a mental health doctor in September of 2012.

Rytter says that's because the VA scheduled his latest appointment without telling him first.

“I get a letter in the mail, saying I missed my June 27th appointment at 4:45 pm. I never make an appointment at 4:45 pm, have you seen the traffic at that time?” said Rytter. “I called right away and asked what’s going on?”

They told him he would have to wait until October which was more than a year since his last visit.

So NewsChannel 3 brought Rytter's story to the attention of Secretary Shinseki.

“There shouldn’t be a reason for a veteran not to have access, our job is to provide it,” said Shinseki. “We are not perfect here, but where we find the kinds of discrepancies we are talking about, I ask you to share them with me, and we will go and make some corrections.”