Saturday, September 08, 2007

Travis Virgadamo remembered

A Las Vegas Army infantryman who was prescribed Prozac for depression and several weeks later killed himself in Iraq should have undergone at least three months of observation before returning to normal duties, psychiatrists and other medical experts said in interviews Wednesday.

Family and friends of Pfc. Travis Virgadamo say he told them he was prescribed daily doses of 12.5 milligram s of the anti depressant Prozac beginning in July. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last Thursday outside of Baghdad, the military said.

Medical experts interviewed by the Sun said anyone given prescription anti depressants should be watched carefully and kept out of high-stress duty for at least three months.

Las Vegas psychiatrist Dr. Mark Collins said anyone on Prozac needs to be checked regularly for 90 days before being returned "to combat - the most stressful of all situations."

Collins said he has treated many firefighters and police officers with Prozac. "I would return them to light duty or partial duty for a three-month period."

Experts also noted that research has found that the drugs pose a special risk to teenagers. Virgadamo was 19.

Prozac's manufacturer, Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, says in its warning that clinical studies indicate that antidepressants "increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults with depression and other psychiatric disorders"...

The Pentagon would not provide details to the Sun about Virgadamo's treatment or condition in the weeks before his death. His family is asking the Army for more information.

Family members say that during his 15-day visit to Southern Nevada in July, Virgadamo was noticeably scared and told them he did not want to return to Iraq because of fears generated by horrific things he had witnessed there.

Relatives say that although they remain loyal to the military, they want honest answers about Virgadamo's death.

His father, Robert Virgadamo, said he has begun the process of obtaining his son's military medical records.

"I don't believe the military intentionally tried to hurt my son," he said. "I believe they tried to do what they could to help him. But I also believe someone made a mistake by sending him back to combat. I don't want restitution or retribution. I want only the truth"...

Virgadamo's father and grandmother Katie O'Brien on Wednesday said the soldier suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression dating to boot camp in 2005.

Robert Virgadamo said that although it was his son's lifelong dream to be a soldier, he had problems adjusting to that job from the start.

He said it was his understanding that his son was first prescribed a drug of some kind for anxiety attacks in July 2006, about seven months after basic training. He started seeing a military psychiatrist while stationed in Georgia at that time.

He was first deployed to Iraq in May.

"When he came home on leave in July he told me he had only recently been switched from Zoloft to Prozac," said family friend Marcy Kallick, who also takes Prozac in the same dosage Virgadamo did . "I was constantly reminding him every day to take his Prozac."

"He did not want to go back," Kallick said.

After leaving Las Vegas in late July, Virgadamo returned to Georgia and then to Kuwait before reentering Iraq in August, his family said. While he was stationed in Georgia and Kuwait, military officials placed him on suicide watch, O'Brien said, noting that Virgadamo also was put on the antidepressant Paxil when he returned to Iraq. Psychiatrists often adjust dosages and drugs to find a combination that is best for patients.

"They took his gun away from him," she said, not knowing exactly when he got it back.

Kallick said that in one of her final phone conversations with Virgadamo from Iraq he lamented that the chaplain he had been seeing prior to his coming home was not available to talk with him.
Virgadamo's family thinks he was granted military leave this summer specifically to help him briefly escape the problems he was having dealing with the war, including a rollover accident in which he was involved in May.

On the My Space Web site, Virgadamo described that ordeal, writing on May 13: "After driving all day coming back to the base in a little SUV I was told to make my way up from a long-ass convoy and to pass them on the right side. Long story short, I hit a decent sized rock doing 60 mph, blew my rear tire, fish-tailed across both lanes of traffic, missing both my own convoy and on-coming traffic. I'm happy to say I had a lot of luck that night."

Virgadamo bought a car during his July visit and talked about his future , including getting out of the Army in a year and joining his father in starting a security business in the Philippines. His father said he did not appear suicidal at the time.

Read the rest at the Las Vegas Sun

Related Link:
Travis M. Virgadamo dies 'in a non-combat related incident'