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AUSN Discusses the Need for Informed Written Consent for Veteran Health


AUSN Discusses the Need for Informed Written Consent for Veteran Health

LCDR Steven Rogers, Operations Manager of the Association of the U.S. Navy, interviews veteran advocates Sherman Gillums, Jr., Ed.D. (USMC, Ret.) and John Spagnola about how to reduce the risk of suicide among military veterans by improving their access to written informed consent about risks of psychotropic medications and alternative treatments that are available.



Meet Our Experts

Dr. Gillums is the Director of Disability Integration & Coordination for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the Department of Homeland Security and is a veteran advocate. He is a board member of America’s Warrior Partnership, The War Horse News, and Patients’ Rights Action Fund. Previously, he worked on veteran advocacy for NAMI, AMVETS, and Paralyzed Veterans of America. He began his career in the U.S. Marine Corps for 12 years before he was critically injured with a spinal cord injury.


John Spagnola is the CEO of Veterans Strategic Solutions (VSS) whose mission it is to create partnerships and coalitions to raise awareness of factors that contribute to veteran suicide, ensure veterans are fully informed about the side effects of medications as well as other treatment options, and improving health care quality for military servicemen and women. He is currently working on a resolution to require VA health to support written informed consent related to prescription medications often prescribed for mood disorders and other health conditions. He writes, “Written Informed Consent will help ensure that clinicians are providing all vital information, including risks and side effects, considering all available evidence-based treatment options and medications to each veteran as a means of minimizing or eliminating the potential risk of suicide.” 


The Promise of Written Informed Consent


Most veterans receiving care for a mental health diagnosis, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and more, are not aware of the devastating side effects (violent behavior, suicide, hallucinations, and others) that can accompany some psychotropic medications and drug combinations. So many veterans are in need of care that VA medical professionals are not always sharing and documenting the side effects, risks, and other possible treatment alternatives for each veteran. Prescribing drugs is one way to provide short-term relief, but it may not be the right treatment path for ever veteran.


Next Steps for Veterans to Take


Dr. Gillums suggests next steps that veterans and their family can take to help them better advocate for healthcare treatments and alternatives.

“Every surgical procedure. Every drug administered to your veteran, your loved one requires informed consent,” he says. It may take looking at the fine print in the medical records to see if your veteran was adequately informed. He also shared that doctors have an obligation to individualize the risk. They should also explicitly share what the alternatives are and those should be made known to the veteran.


  1. He suggests veterans and their advocates “become the squeaky wheel” and ask questions. If your veteran won’t ask questions, he recommends asking for permission to advocate on their behalf. Be willing to call the doctor and ask more questions about treatments, drugs, or other possible alternatives that may be available.

  2. Support organizations behind legislative efforts that support written informed consent.


AUSN’S Response


AUSN is piloting a veterans health program in the coming days in a local health department. Local communities all over the country have veterans struggling with health care and local governments can be empowered to be of service in specific ways. 


Get Connected


Stay tuned for more information and contact LCDR Steven Rogers to get connected to Dr. Gillums and John Spagnola.

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