Roughly 2,000 mentally ill war veterans were lobotomized by the U.S. government during and after World War II, according to documents discovered by The Wall Street Journal.
The report, published Wednesday, says the Veterans Administration considered lobotomy to be conservative medicine at the time. It was carried out in VA hospitals across the country. According to old government reports, memos, and letters, 2,000 veterans and likely hundreds more were lobotomized, a procedure during which connections between one or more lobes of the brain are severed.
A World War II bomber pilot, Roman Tritz, was given a prefrontal lobotomy a few weeks before his 30th birthday. He said he fought off orderlies at the veterans hospital at first, but on July 1, 1953, they completed the procedure.
“They got the notion they were going to come to give me a lobotomy,” Roman Tritz told the Journal. “To hell with them.”
He was also subjected to numerous ECT treatments – electroconvulsive therapy.
According to hospital documents, Tritz was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The Wisconsin man, now 90 years old, still appears to be delusional. The Journal says when he does talk it’s usually about government conspiracies.
The report says these documents are evidence that despite belonging to a different time, servicemen returned in the 1940s and 50s with the same psychiatric issues that are seen today.
“World War II mythology says American boys came home victorious, married their girls and put the war behind them,” the Journal says. “Roman Tritz is evidence that wasn’t always the case.”
The VA’s written response to the lobotomies says: "In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, VA and other physicians throughout the United States and the world debated the utility of lobotomies. The procedure became available to severely ill patients who had not improved with other treatments. Within a few years, the procedure disappeared within VA, and across the United States, as safer and more effective treatments were developed."