Camp Lejeune Marines speaking Thursday in the aftermath of the death of a colleague who shot himself during a police chase aboard base Monday said instead of the needed psychiatric treatment they sought they were given a cocktail of antidepressants and sent back to work.
A whistleblowing doctor fired last year by a contract service at Naval Hospital agrees with the harsh assessment of the care given to combat Marines.
Naval Hospital commanding officer Capt. Gerard Cox said his staff is dedicated to serving post-deployment Marines and sailors, and accusations to the contrary are false.
Sgt. Thomas R. Bagosy, 25, of Newark, Del., died Monday afternoon after shooting himself aboard base.
Cox said Bagosy was being evaluated at a hospital clinic when he left abruptly.
“His caregivers were making arrangements to transfer him to the main Naval Hospital when he ran away from his caregivers,” he said. “This has been a tragic incident and it has deeply affected Sgt. Bagosy’s family and MarSOC, but also the caregivers who have been involved with this incident.”
Bagosy left the clinic, fled the hospital area in his 2007 pickup truck, was pursued by provost marshals, pulled over on McHugh Boulevard and shot himself while standing in the street, witnesses said. Base officials have not answered questions concerning the gun used in the shooting.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s inquiry into the incident is ongoing.
Corps-wide, 52 Marines committed suicide in 2009 and so far in 2010, 13 Marines have died of self-inflicted wounds, according to Marine Corps Manpower in Quantico, Va.
A Marine medically retired from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines told The Daily News on Thursday he tried to commit suicide four times while being treated at Naval Hospital two years ago.
“They are applying blanket treatment to everyone,” he said
A total of 48,086 mental health related visits for all Naval Hospital clinics aboard Camp Lejeune were recorded in fiscal year 2009. In fiscal year 2010, there have been 26,609 mental health related visits through March 31, said Lt.j.g. Tony Skrypek, department head for TRICARE Operations at Naval Hospital.
Cox said the marked increase could be attributed to the stress of two ongoing wars, the population growth aboard Lejeune and that the Navy and Marine Corps now actively screen for mental health issues in post-deployment service members.
“We are identifying the problem earlier and that adds to the increased numbers,” he said, adding the stigma once attached to mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder is no longer pervasive in the military.
An active duty Marine being treated for PTSD at the same clinic where Bagosy was seen Monday said the average mental health visit last about 15 minutes. He has been in treatment since returning from battle in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq. He said during recent treatments he was served a “cocktail of drugs” that included Ambien, Seroquel and Wellbutrin — a sleep aid and antidepressants.
Rear Admiral Bob Kiser, commander of Navy Medicine East, called Naval Hospital’s efforts to treat post-deployed service members “extraordinary” earlier this year.
Dr. Kernan Manion, a brain trauma specialist from Sneads Ferry, has a vastly different opinion.
He said his contract at Naval Hospital was negated because he called attention to what he described as poor treatment of service members.
“I think they weren’t prepared for the number of people that they were going to be seeing and that was part of the ineptness of the clinic,” he said. “Increasingly clinics like this are relegating psychiatrists to just a drug providing role.”
Cox said the mental health staff at the hospital has grown six-fold since 2007. Then only eight mental health professionals were on staff; now there are 48 — 20 of which are physicians, physiatrists or clinical psychologists.
Manion said the combination of psychotropic medications and stressed out combat troops can be volatile. He called for better violent response protocols after a patient he was treating became belligerent and it took a long period of time for base authorities to respond, he said.
When dealing with combat veterans, military and contracted personnel need to be specially trained. This was not true of staff at the clinic when he worked there, Manion said.
Bagosy served a tour in Iraq from September 2006 to April 2007 and a tour in Afghanistan from June to November 2009. He was assigned to U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command in 2008, said Maj. Michael Armistead, that command’s public affairs officer.
He was “a proud and loving husband and father, a very loved son and brother, who will be greatly missed by all who were blessed to know him,” Bagosy’s obituary reads.
His funeral will be Saturday in Wilmington, Del. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.