Psychologist treated veterans for 25 years

By: Joey Chisesi Special to The News Messenger
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Retired psychologist June Husted says, “I’d come home from work and say to my husband, John Travis, something exciting took place today. I’d tell him all about it. He’d come home from work and say something exciting happened at work today … but I can’t tell you what it was.” John Travis was an electrical engineer and worked on missiles and space projects. His work was classified. June was employed by the Veterans’ Administration as a psychologist. Both June and John hold doctoral degrees, June in psychology and John in electrical engineering. This story, however, is about June. Husted served the VA for 25 years. She treated patients bearing scars of combat and post-combat syndrome and other veterans who became ill both during and after leaving military service. Asked what the most common form of mental illness was, she said, “Both bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. Both illnesses commonly develop between the ages of 17-25. Military stress may trigger them. “We treated these patients by giving them support, building their confidence, giving aids to daily living and proper medication,” she said. “We saw them on a regular basis and were able to advise doctors on symptom changes and medication adjustment. I held cooking classes for them. They might miss some sessions but never the cooking ones. Why miss a free meal.” Numerous patients of Husted’s suffered combat stress, overwhelming guilt that they had survived combat while fellow soldiers didn’t. Although not classified as a disease such as schizophrenia, their cases were difficult. “The main treatment we used was reassurance and understanding,” she said. “We enforced the idea even in civilian life it would be normal to feel guilt if someone survived an accident, and another didn’t.” There is nothing humorous in any way connected to mental illness, but a few rather funny incidents took place while she worked for the VA. “One patient would bring a guitar to some sessions, sing and act like Elvis Presley,” she said. “I advised the doctor that he appeared to have manic symptoms. The doctor added medication. In group therapy a week later, the veteran reported the voices were gone and then added, ‘I miss them.’” Husted said a team approach was used to treat patients. Her work at the VA wasn’t always conflict free. “We had conflicts between residents cycling through the staff,” she said. “They believed they were more knowledgeable. Instead of conferring with staff, they would opt for a change in medication, resulting in a setback to our patients.” In one case where a patient regressed, Husted discovered the veteran had been taken off a medication. “I asked the resident why?” she said. “He said, ‘The patient looked good to me and always greeted me.’ I was totally frustrated. I told him he was behaving better because of the medication. It was important for the staff to be informed, particularly because we saw our patients on a regular basis. “My job was never dull and my work forced me to do considerable research and paper writing,” she continued. “One of my papers concerned the fact that many patients with mental problems found themselves getting into more and more trouble. Police are not trained to handle mentally disturbed people, yet police are the first ones called.” Another of Husted’s studies about involuntary hospitalization concerned the equal awareness that half of those people arrested were a menace to society but not mentally ill. “There are only three reasons you can hospitalize a person in California,” she explained. “Are they a danger to other people, to themselves or are they extremely emotionally disabled? The police are less likely to be able to recognize these situations. It’s a major problem to this day in our society.” Husted continued to promote training for police to identify situations involving mentally ill patients. “I believe in patients’ rights, but when degenerating patients are unable to take care of their needs, they need someone to intervene in their behalf,” she said. “In many cases, the American Civil Liberties Union offered road blocks to this approach, yet offered no other solution.” The subject of persons standing at intersections with signs asking for monetary assistance came up and Husted said, “It’s hard to define whether or not that person is on drugs or has another addiction. I once read in the Los Angeles Times that some of these people earn as much as $30,000 per year doing this. Most people with mental illness would be afraid to interact with people that way.” Husted’s road to becoming a psychologist was roundabout. She was majoring in English. “But I questioned myself as to why I was pursuing this avenue of learning,” she said. “I knew it meant delving into papers, books and the like.” At the time she had no idea where those studies would lead. “Ultimately I wound up delving into papers and books anyway,” she said. “But with different objectives.” Husted lived in Germany for two years. “While there, friends would come to me with problems and looked to me for answers,” she said. “I guess it was the forerunner of my becoming a psychologist.” When she returned to the states she applied for and received her doctoral program at UCLA. In 2004, she and husband John moved to Sun City. “I now can give myself permission to engage in the many activities offered in Sun City,” she said. “No more research papers. I can say I’m truly retired.”