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Grieving Father: VA Isn't Doing Enough To Prevent Vet Suicides

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- His son survived the war, but lost the battle at home.

"Everything seemed to be well with David, going his way and then all of a sudden this drops out of the sky, like an anvil hits you on the top of the head," said Bob Cranmer.

Just last month Iraq war veteran David Cranmer joined the growing ranks of US veterans who have committed suicide. His father is former Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer.

"Twenty-two suicides a day," said Cranmer, "that's a crisis."

He thinks vets suffering from PTSD -- post-traumatic stress disorder -- are not getting the treatment they need and deserve from the US Department of Veteran's Affairs.

"It's gone beyond, with me anyway, the tragedy of my own son," said Cranmer, "to many, many other veterans that are out there, like him who are just being given medication by the VA and pushed out the door."

David Cranmer enlisted in the marines and served in a forward area of Iraq. He returned home to meet and marry a young woman, they bought a house and had a daughter who is now 5 years old.

But recent stresses led him to a VA therapist -- who after one session prescribed the psychotropic drug Zoloft. It carries an FDA warning that it can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. A month later -- David Cranmer hung himself.

"He had some marital issues," said Cranmer. "Nothing that I think rose to the level of committing suicide, but when you add to that mix this, what I feel is a very dangerous drug."

"We don't have a proven medication or a proven therapy that we know will prevent suicide, but we're trying," said David Macpherson.

Dr. David Macpherson -- the acting head of the Pittsburgh VA -- can't speak about David or any specific case but, while he's distressed about the high suicide rate in vets, he believes that drugs like Zoloft have been effective in treating PTSD.

"The literature about these drugs causing suicide has really only been shown, to my knowledge, in adolescents and older adults who start these drugs," said Macpherson. "Many actually benefit tremendously from them."

The VA health system in Pittsburgh says it provides a wide variety of counseling services -- including talk therapy and rigorous monitoring of all vets given medication.

But this veteran turned therapist quit the VA because she says vets are not getting the therapy they need, just given drugs without proper follow up.

"It's a disservice to the vets, it's irresponsible," said therapist Tracey Davis. "And it is not the way that this is supposed to go. You don't just throw medicine at people, sometimes all you have to do is talk to someone."

And Cranmer believes we're failing veterans like his son -- and need to find much better ways of treating their emotional distress in peacetime.

"Someone has to stand up and take notice and say 'stop, let's look at what we're doing here,'" he said.

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