Stan and Shirley White's son, U.S. Marine Cpl. Andrew White, returned in good health from service in Iraq in 2005, only to spiral into the crippling grip of PTSD.
Andrew White's treatment, prescribed through military doctors, was heavy doses of medication -- including an antipsychotic drug called Seroquel -- for severe PTSD symptoms and pain from an injury. He died in his sleep in February 2008.
"We believe that is what caused his death. He went from taking 25 milligrams of Seroquel to 1600 milligrams when he died," Stan White said. "It was a lethal cocktail of antidepressants, antipsychotics and analgesics."
Last month, the Whites received word that military leaders had removed Seroquel from the "approved" formulary, effective March 28 -- which means that military doctors are advised not to prescribe the drug for PTSD treatment.
After four years of fighting to be heard, the Whites see the edict as a small victory in a much larger fight.
"It has to filter down," Shirley White said. "It has to go from the top to the prescribers."
They believe returning soldiers with PTSD should receive peer-to-peer and professional counseling, instead of the course of powerful medications their son received.
"I have yet to read about anyone who died as a result of counseling," Stan said. "We're not saying no one should take medicine, but they need to ask questions about what they're taking."
Stan and Shirley reluctantly embarked on their journey more than four years ago. The Cross Lanes couple had already faced the 2005 death of their son Robert, an Army staff sergeant who died in Afghanistan when a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed his Humvee. All three of the Whites' sons served in the military.
They were still struggling with his death when they found Andrew dead in his bedroom.
A toxicology report listed "fatal drug intoxication" as the cause of Andrew's death. He was taking Seroquel, Klonopin and Paxil exactly as prescribed by his Veterans Administration physicians, according to Shirley White, who monitored her son's intake.
As they absorbed the shock of their second son's death, the Whites immediately questioned the circumstances. Why would an otherwise healthy young man die in his sleep? They searched for answers and immediately discovered the deaths of other veterans in eerily similar circumstances. Three were West Virginians, who died in their sleep while taking the same medications for treatment of PTSD.
Since then, they and other military families have combed the Internet for newspaper accounts and obituaries from which they compiled a list, currently at 314, of soldiers and veterans who died in their sleep. Although they don't have access to medical records, they've spoken with many family members who confirmed that the soldiers were taking medications to treat PTSD.
California neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman contacted the Whites shortly after Andrew's death. Baughman is convinced that military doctors are overprescribing antipsychotic medications in combinations that cause cardiac arrest, often resulting in death.
In a news release from May 2010, Baughman described similar circumstances in the deaths of Andrew White and veterans Eric Layne, 29, of Kanawha City; Derek Johnson, 22, of Hurricane, and Nicholas Endicott of Logan County
"All were diagnosed with PTSD. All seemed 'normal' when they went to bed. And, all were on Seroquel [an antipsychotic] Paxil [an antidepressant] and Klonopin [a benzodiazepine] ... These were sudden cardiac deaths."
Seroquel is approved for the treatment of bipolar/schizophrenic patients, but Andrew was prescribed Seroquel for sleeplessness. At the 1,600-milligram dosage, his prescription was twice the maximum dose recommended for schizophrenic patients.
The Whites traveled to Washington four times to present information about Seroquel-related military deaths to members of Congress serving on veteran and medication oversight committees and testified at and FDA hearing about the dangers they perceive.
Some legislators met with them, while others sent a staff member. They all sympathized and often suggested studies of the issue. "We've had enough studies. Let's do something," said Stan White.