VA Test Nearly Lethal, Veteran Says; Anti-Smoking Medication Linked to Psychotic, Suicidal Episodes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

VA Test Nearly Lethal, Veteran Says; Anti-Smoking Medication Linked to Psychotic, Suicidal Episodes


Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

James Elliott thought his recurring nightmares of exploding bombs, dogs eating corpses, a child's head blown off its body and other war horrors from his Iraq tour had ended in 2004 when he returned to his home in Silver Spring.

The Army veteran sniper was earning high grades in college and got engaged to be married. His post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had disappeared.

He even signed up for a Veterans Affairs experiment to kick his habit of nearly three packs of cigarettes a day using the drug Chantix, and was succeeding.

But after two weeks on the drug, his night terrors returned with a vengeance, and his fiancee built a wall of stuffed animals across their bed to serve as a security buffer.

"I just thought she really liked stuffed animals," said Mr. Elliott, 38.

Within a few weeks of his taking Chantix, VA officials learned the drug was causing serious side effects across the nation, including psychotic behavior, suicides and suicidal tendencies. But the agency took three months to get that warning through its system and to the veterans in the study.

Night after night, Mr. Elliott violently thrashed against the plush toys in his sleep, shouting for air strikes, replaying the horror of watching friends bleed to death.

"This went on for 2 1/2 months. It just got worse night by night," Mr. Elliott said.

He stopped eating and drank massive amounts of coffee or Mountain Dew to stay awake. Then the nightmares turned to hallucinations. He saw strangers in the neighborhood wearing suicide vests and was certain that nearby cars were tagged with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

"They couldn't come and get me if I was awake and waiting for them," Mr. Elliott said.

His fiancee called the police on Feb. 5, concerned he might hurt himself. She called police a second time when she discovered his pistol was missing from its holster. As a skilled marksman, he was an even bigger threat to the police, she thought.

"I don't want him to hurt anybody," she told the 911 dispatcher, but added "he has talked in the past about killing himself."

After spending several days in jail and weeks in a veterans hospital, Mr. Elliott now says it was a miracle the police did not kill him. Instead, officers used a Taser to subdue him. In his pocket, they found a loaded .40-caliber pistol with one live round in the chamber.

In an interview with The Washington Times weeks after he was arrested, Mr. Elliott pondered his actions that lead to his being Tasered - "why did I put the gun in my pants, suicide by cops?" he asked.

According to the police report, Mr. Elliott shouted, "Are you going to shoot me? Shoot me!" after the officers ordered him to show his hands. As Mr. Elliott was being transported to a nearby police station, he asked the cops why they did not shoot him. …

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