In 2018, still in the throes of painful withdrawal from a psychiatric drug cocktail, U.S. Air Force veteran Derek Blumke began connecting the dots. His independent research into psychiatric drug harm and pharmaceutical industry corruption would eventually lead him to Mad in America, where he launched the Veterans’ & Military Families Initiative in 2019. Later that same year he co-authored with Robert Whitaker a blockbuster report, “Screening + Drug Treatment = Increase in Veteran Suicides.”

As Blumke addressed large veteran audiences, sharing his own story and highlights from the research, he discovered that he was far from alone in his experiences. He heard horror story after horror story that followed a disturbingly familiar pattern: starting, adjusting the dose, or abruptly stopping antidepressants was followed by personality changes, outbursts and acts of violence or suicide, leaving countless families and lives destroyed. For Blumke, a personal search for answers turned into an enduring advocacy mission.

Derek Blumke

At the 2023 Military Influencer conference in Las Vegas, whenever he spoke about his work, everyone kept saying “You have to talk to Will Wisner,” executive director of the Grunt Style Foundation, a nonprofit veteran organization dedicated to ensuring the mental health and wellness of military veterans. Amid the din of the hotel casino, the two men connected and discovered that they shared the same mission: ending the epidemic of prescribed veteran suicides.

Wisner introduced Blumke to Timothy Jensen, the Grunt Style Foundation’s Board President and co-owner of the most popular military apparel brand in the country, GruntStyle. Jensen, an Iraq war veteran who served in the Marines, had been researching psychiatric drug overprescribing in the Veterans’ Health Administration (VA) system for years. He had his own harrowing personal story of antidepressant harm, and he had lost his best friend, a fellow veteran, to suicide soon after he was prescribed Wellbutrin for smoking cessation.

In 2022, Jensen teamed up with Wisner, the advocacy organization BurnPits360, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, comedian Jon Stewart and others to fight for care and benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits, radiation, chemical weapons and other toxins during their service. After a years-long fight led by a long list of advocates and veteran nonprofits, Jensen, Wisner, BurnPits360 and a cadre of others camped out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for six days in the heat and rain to get help for their sick friends. The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was signed into law in August of 2022, and it now provides care and benefits to nearly a million U.S. military veterans. These experiences drove Jensen and his team to look deeper at other issues impacting the veteran community.

Tim Jensen

“I just like a good fight,” Jensen told Mad in America. “I’m an underdogger. And in this fight that we’re currently talking about here, we’re the underdog. We keep getting served some poison that’s taking our community in droves, and I’m tired of seeing it.”

Soon after their first meeting, Jensen and Wisner hired Blumke on as the Foundation’s first Veterans’ Impact Fellow, giving him the support and imbedding him into a fast moving team to tackle the veteran suicide epidemic. The product of the Grunt Style Foundation’s efforts is the launch of the War Cry For Change, a campaign to transform veteran mental health, to ensure prescribing practices at the VA for veterans are safe, and prevent the harm from current prescribing practices across the country.

A veteran-led movement for informed consent

Poring through the data, Blumke landed on some startling statistics: 68% of all veterans seen at least one time for care at the VA in 2019 had been prescribed psychotropic drugs, and 28% were issued prescriptions for antidepressants.

“It should be zero shock that veterans have the suicide rates we do,” Blumke said. “Veteran suicide rates are two to two and a half times that of the civilian population. Prescription rates of antidepressants and psychiatric drugs are of the same multiples, which are both the highest in the world.”

The Foundation’s Executive Director Will Wisner also rejects the prevailing explanation that mental illness and trauma are the sole causes of the veteran suicide epidemic. “Trauma and mental health struggles are very real things,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we know that the overprescribing, polypharmacy, the lack of informed consent — people not being told the risks of the medications they are being put on that can cause violence and suicides, all kinds of horrific stuff — is what we believe is causing 25 percent or more of all veteran suicide deaths.”

The Grunt Style Foundation has taken a strategic and tactical approach in developing the campaign’s aims. “We are looking at this fight and we’re really observing the battle space,” Jensen said. “The people I surround myself with and my team, we’re tacticians, we’re fighters. We don’t walk into a fight that we know we’re not going to win.”

To that end, the campaign has four relatively simple aims: First, to ensure veterans and their families understand the risks of the medications they are prescribed by adding a signatory informed consent requirement, similar to what is required for long term opioid prescribing, for all psychotropic medications and drugs with box warnings prescribed at the VA. “If you need help, the first approach should not be a doctor prescribing you a drug without a real discussion about talk therapy and other modalities,” Blumke said. “And it certainly shouldn’t be prescribing a drug and not telling the patient about the real risks of suicide, violence, permanent sexual dysfunction, long-term dependency, akathisia and others, all things the drug companies and the FDA have known about for a long time.”

The campaign also seeks retraining of all VA prescribers and mental health clinicians on efficacy and risk profiles of medications with FDA box warnings. “They need to know that some of what they learned in medical school and their graduate programs isn’t the full story. Antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs have huge risk profiles, but doctors and counselors aren’t even being trained about these issues, especially the issue of dependency and the painful withdrawal that can accompany them,” Blumke noted. “Many people feel benefited by these medications, so we are not at all looking to end the prescribing of them, but rather when we are prescribing antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs, patients are informed and that we are doing it safely. Today we are not.”

The third goal is to reform VA de-prescribing guidelines for all psychotropic drugs with FDA box warnings. Current guidelines instruct prescribers to titrate patients off of these medications very quickly, usually in a matter of weeks. “Two to four weeks is not enough time for many people who have been on an antidepressant, benzodiazepine, or antipsychotic drug for five years,” said Blumke. “It’s not enough. Patients need to be told about how to get off these drugs safely and they need help doing it.”

Finally, the campaign seeks to work with the VA to share their rates of psychotropic medication prescriptions, and post-mortem toxicology report data for veterans treated by the VHA who died by suicide or indeterminate causes, starting in the early 2000s when psychiatric drug prescription rates at the VA began to soar.

Tim Jensen and Derek Blumke

“We’ve been working with VA leadership and through my role with the Michigan Governor’s Challenge we’ve been having talks with their heads of mental health. These conversations have been very productive, because our asks are sensible,” Blumke explained. “The average person hearing them says, ‘Oh, more education for patients about the medications they’re prescribed and not just a six foot print off of information in small font. This sounds great!’”

A major component of War Cry for Change is the veteran storytelling campaign, where Mad in America and the Grunt Style Foundation have teamed up in partnership to enable veterans and military families to share their stories of harm, which are being published on Mad in America.

The VA as a starting point

For Blumke and Jensen, the VA is merely a starting point towards addressing these issues at a wider level. “We can’t fix this issue just by fixing the VA,” Blumke noted.

The campaign also seeks to get the attention of Congress in the near future. “We’re walking in and we’re carrying a big stick, and we’re gonna thump all the bad actors in a way that has not been done before,” said Jensen. “All the charades that have been put on before in front of Congress — we’re going to sink that ship.”

Jensen was hopeful about plans to hold public hearings on pharmaceuticals and Big Pharma with “testimonies from real Americans, not the contrived individuals that you’ve seen ponied in front of the Senate in previous instances.”

“Our goal is to fix this issue and to end this endless path of death and misery and suffering,” Blumke added. “Pharmaceutical influence over government has allowed this to go on as long as it has. And I think there are many families in this country who are fed up and feel they deserve better.”

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Editor’s note: Mad in America has created an archive of personal stories by veterans and their families and friends that the Gruntstyle Foundation is gathering to support its initiative. Members of the veterans community can share their stories here.

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MIA Reports are supported by reader subscriptions and by a grant from Open Excellence. Please subscribe to help fund our original journalism.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Incredibly insightful article. I’ve been a drug safety advocate for almost two decades after taking the life of my 11-year-old son, Ian, in 2004 when I became psychotic shortly after starting Paxil. My presentation “How SSRI Antidepressants Cause Suicide, Homicide and Mass Shootings” is well aligned with many of the issues raised in this article, including the legal requirement of psychiatrists and doctors to obtain informed consent. Thank you Leah for writing this important article, and thank you MIA for posting it.

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  2. This is all great to see but there’s a few clangers here. If these drugs “have huge risk profiles” and are causing suicides and violence then how come they are saying “that some people are helped by them”. Have they not heard of Peter Breggin and spell binding ? The “helped people” are also being extremely damaged but they don’t know it because of the effect of the drug. It’s always the same. These “warriors” turn up then they are apologising for the pharma companies. We need to completely discredit the pharma companies and destroy them totally. They are evil and closer to African Warlords in the way they operate. If you can find your enemy you can destroy him. It seems these guys found the enemy but they don’t want to destroy him.

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  3. The statistics from the NIH – 1% of Benzo’s patients – experience “paradoxical anxiety”. Mine were followed by suicidal thoughts. I no longer take this class of drugs (7 years, now … or any psycho active drugs, for that matter). I don’t know the number of scripts written per year, but I have seen 13 million and 15 million – on the increase. Times 1% – that’s 130,000 (or 150,000) people! I think that’s a lot of people!

    I was married to a Vietnam combat Marine (‘67 – point, on a recon team, that was blown up). He had PTSD. The PTSD was bad enough, thank goodness he wasn’t also drugged with benzo’s.

    I wish all, well.
    Life has many challenges. We don’t need adverse psycho active drugs making things worse.

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    • Survived, I’m sorry you’ve seen how bad psychiatry is in the US. You deserve so much better. We all do but especially people in the military. Homeopathy has excellent medicines for PTSD such as Aconite. It’s best to work with a professional homeopath, though. If you’re interested, Elaine Lewis, over at hpathy.com, has lots of articles on using homeopathy. It’s an amazing approach that was discovered 200 years ago. The WHO says it’s the second most widely used system of medicine in the world. I think psych drugs are nothing but junk that put profits way ahead of patients’ welfare.

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  4. If we see clearly we see this article is expressing all the social confusion around ‘mental illness’. From the perspective of the eyes, the awareness, nothing you talk about or struggle with is real. You are caught in a net of illusions and fighting a fight through those illusions with an illusion called a psychiatrist whose brain itself is conditioned by illusions and conditioned to repeat these illusions. The whole of society is like this – we exchange nothing verbally besides illusions. I am not speaking illusions but what I say will confront you as an illusion, because all you know is illusions.

    Mental illness and psychiatry and society are all the same thing – a network of thought materializing itself through social processes and identities and action. The whole structure is rotten – the whole structure is a disease. The only thing that is not this disease is Mother Nature, and you are Mother Nature confused and traumatised by an destructive social and intellectual process you don’t understand. Mother Earth is free of words and numbers because she saw how they were born and will never be deceived by them, and she IS health. Look at every creature of nature, including natural humans – they are health. Nature is the only thing that does health. So if you want to heal free your nature and observe and understand it’s trauma. Through observing and understanding it in freedom the organism and brain and heart and mind will heal itself. This is nature’s law. The rest is the disease process of social historical accumulation through time producing a vast social-historical totality which conditions the brain of each of us and each subsequent generation. This social conditioning regulates and constrains and directs the underlying affective and natural substrata which therefore becomes distorted, desperate and dysfunctional, expressing itself through force of feeling or if that is frustrated or repressed, through force of action, including the actions of thought and imagination. Understand this – I only know all this because I watched and understood my own dysfunction. If you stop running away from it or repressing it with drugs, if you don’t escape because you understand the need to observe and understand it without interpretation or judgement, you will heal yourself. If not, the damage caused by your social conditioning will follow you to the grave. Please don’t cancel me for saying that because I’m conveying a natural truth from a dark, unknown thing which is me and you. Her name is The Mother. And she’s conveying it to your brain and mind.

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    • “Mental illness and psychiatry and society are all the same thing – a network of thought materializing itself through social processes and identities and action. The whole structure is rotten – the whole structure is a disease. The only thing that is not this disease is Mother Nature…”

      I agree.

      It seems to me that living in one’s head tends to create the illusion of head trauma or “mental illness” – which in my opinion seems to be something most mental health practitioners seem to know how to do better than everyone else.

      And it also seems to me that most mental health practitioners seem to think they’re ENTITLED to live in everyone else’s head as well as their own
      – which is something that seems to have only made things much, much worse – for everyone else.

      IMHO.

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      • You say, and I agre wholeheartedly, that: “It seems to me that living in one’s head tends to create the illusion of head trauma or “mental illness””. So would you mind expanding on what you feel would be a more full account of mental illness? It might be difficult to put into words, because you are expressing something that people don’t generally put into words, but I would invite you to attempt it anyway. I find it very interesting to hear what true experts, i.e people who have had mental health problems and dealt with all the stupidities of psychiatry, view what we call mental illness. Don’t worry if you don’t get my question or if you don’t fancy divulging!

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        • Thank you for asking, No-one.

          I don’t believe in the concept of mental illness, although I recognize that different states of mind exist – some of which can adversely affect how someone feels or their ability to distinguish between subjective and/or objective reality; that it’s not about “illness”, but it is about how someone feels, or what they perceive, and how someone responds to these experiences.

          In other words, I don’t think “mental illness” is a concrete “thing”, as feelings and perceptions are always changing, to one degree or another.

          However, if I had to choose just one word to describe “mental illness”, it would be “psychiatry”.

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          • Interesting. I tend to agree with almost everything you write. You said ‘in treating a psychotic patient, the psychiatrist is actually treating themselves’ – not 100% sure what you were thinking of when you wrote this, but is true on a number of levels, and a tantalizing and quite profound comment. Anyways, have a nice day sane person diagnosed as insane by a mad psychiatrist in a mad society!

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  5. Man-made chemicals, i.e. psych meds, aren’t designed to cure anyone, just suppress symptoms until the patient eventually dies. Best thing I ever did was dump my loved one’s psychiatrist and do my own research. The first approach I found that sounded sensible was “orthomolecular” medicine, a big term that means something very simple: correcting one’s BIOchemical imbalances. (Named by Linus Pauling, PhD himself, the famous Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry) One of my loved ones became psychotic and was given 3 antipsychotic drugs to be taken daily. A blood test (which I asked our family doc to order) showed his histamine level was too high and I know that many antipsychotics work by lowering one’s histamine level— so I lowered his level with supplements from the health food store. It took me 4 months to completely taper him off the 3 antipsychotic drugs (at a rate of 25% of one drug per week). His “incurable” “bipolar with psychosis” turned out to be a Toxoplasmosis gondii infection and he’s fine now. Psychiatrists have no clue how to cure patients. I have 3 videos on YT about the ortho-m approach at “Linda Van Zandt’s Mental Health Recovery Channel.” The Am Psych Ass’n has been FIGHTING AGAINST this approach for 80 years. No $$$ in it.

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  6. It’s said that in war truth is the first casualty. Wars are launched with lies like weapons of mass destruction which never surface after ‘intelligence’ reports serve their purpose in demonizing an enemy, so WMDs may be unleashed on people ‘over there’ who likewise have next to no say-so over their unaccountable rulers.* To study the hidden history of war is itself a lesson in false flag psyops manipulating whole populations into mass murder.

    It follows the military is the last place to look for truth in advertising and anything informed when it comes to the proles and plebs who suffer its consequences, on a need to know basis next to nothing. Its methods of recruitment are merely the first step in manufacturing consent to imperial deceits, turning patriotism into partnership in crimes against humanity. Soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice of exploited labor to make the rich richer by running rackets for conquest of resources.**

    And from nuclear testing and MK-Ultra to deployment of depleted uranium and experiments of next generation neurowarfare to turn brains into battlefields, and so much more, rank and file routinely have served as lab rats for all sorts of Frankenscience and technology serving no other purpose than perfecting militarism’s death march. The VA continues this maltreatment, regularly denying benefits to veterans, including tortured and terrorized survivors simply left to languish and die from economic warfare on the home front. And for those ‘fortunate’ enough to receive benefits, the Pharmafia is ready and waiting to again make them more cannon fodder for and collateral damage from its own weapons of mass deception.

    It’s the longest war, the permanent war of class rule, which we should be fighting.***

    * “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. …Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” (Hermann Goering)

    ** “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” (Smedley Butler)

    *** “I am not a capitalist soldier; I am a proletarian revolutionist. I do not belong to the regular army of the plutocracy, but to the irregular army of the people. I refuse to obey any command to fight from the ruling class, but I will not wait to be commanded to fight for the working class. I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the worldwide war of social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades.” (Eugene Debs)

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    • Yes, homeopathy is truly incredible. Our local hospital chain even has a list online of various homeopathic remedies and what they cure but doctors don’t use them. They just keep pushing the synthetic drugs to “manage” their patients’ conditions. “The Flexner Report,” on Wikipedia or elsewhere, explains how the APA and AMA, in 1910, kicked homeopathy out of the mainstream and installed themselves as the top “experts” on physical and mental treatments. It was a hit job that served them well: just look at how we Americans think suppressing symptoms with drugs is the best treatment there is while hardly anyone knows about homeopathy. This 200-year-old approach simply, quietly, continues to cure thousands of conditions for those few who are fortunate enough to know about it. Our entire country could solve the problem of mental illness if only those in power would recognize it and make it available, especially for our soldiers. Instead, we have expensive doctors, expensive tests, expensive (patented) drugs and expensive insurance to pay for it all and none of it is even designed to cure people, just “manage” symptoms until the patient dies. The whole system is designed to bring in the dollars. When homeopathy cured my food poisoning, it literally cost me about 50 cents. Our soldiers, and all Americans, deserve so much better.

      I wrote about my story for MIA but haven’t seen it yet. I hope they’re still interested.

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    • I so agree, Birdsong. It’s sickening. Conventional psych drugs aren’t even designed to cure anyone—so they don’t. They’re designed to just bring in the highest profits. I used two restorative approaches to cure my “incurable” “bipolar with psychosis” relative and he’s fine now. Our soldiers/veterans deserve the same, top-quality treatments he was given. In fact, everyone deserves these wonderful treatments but are denied because the medicines can’t be patented. No patent = low profit.

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  7. Thank you for the kind words, Birdsong. If people in the military knew about restorative mental health care, maybe they could work together to bring real reform. I have 3 videos on Youtube about the first approach I used, “Orthomolecular Medicine” at “Linda Van Zandt’s Mental Health Recovery Channel. It’s biochemical repair, not “chemical” repair (huge difference) and is safe, gentle and effective. I used to to taper my loved one off of 3 antipsychotic drugs for his so-called “incurable” “bipolar with psychosis.” Then I learned of homeopathy for mental disorders. It cured my relative deeply and permanently so I wrote “Goodbye, Quacks – Hello, Homeopathy!” (Both e-version and paperback are on Amazon.) Homeopathy has some 8,000 medicines, many of which cure depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, PTSD, anxiety disorders and so much more. Some of them greatly helped my relative with his meth addiction. It’s extremely sad to me to think how many lives are being destroyed, and have been destroyed over the last 75 years at least, by conventional psychiatry. I’m sure you feel the same way.

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  8. Another answer to post-traumatic stress is homeopathy. There are some 8,000 homeopathic remedies (medicines) in existence and some of them cure head injuries or the results of a mental or emotional trauma. I’m a retired high school teacher, not a professional homeopath, but still I’ve given some important remedies to my loved ones and myself. I’ve seen how one remedy in particular helped my family member after he had not just taken meth, but injected it. I was there in the ER with him and saw his dramatic improvement within about 2 minutes. Then he fell asleep. I gave a different remedy to another relative who had had 2 head injuries from decades before. Years after my “incurable” “bipolar with psychosis” family member was restored to mental wellness, I needed yet a different remedy for my own trauma and chronic fatigue from going through all that. Homeopathy cures us on all three planes: physical, emotional and mental. I think it goes without saying that when we’re well, our spirit is healthier, too. IMHO, the US is a very sick place because so few have had the good fortune to be treated with homeopathy. – Linda, author of “Goodbye, Quacks – Hello, Homeopathy!”

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