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Lobotomies Performed on WWII Vets at Knoxville VA in 1940s and 1950s

The Wall Street Journal reports that lobotomies were performed on troubled World War II veterans in the 1940s and 1950s, and sadly, the Knoxville VA was one of the facilities where the procedures were used. The Wall Street Journal series details how the VA ordered about 2000 of the procedures done. At the time, the VA was struggling with the numbers of combat vets suffering from what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. In Knoxville, Dr. Harold Buchstein was paid $100 (roughly $800 today) each time he performed the surgery. To save money, the VA administrator in 1952 proposed training VA doctors in Iowa City to perform the procedures. This request may indicate that a significant number of the operations were performed on Iowa veterans.

In response to the series in the Journal, a current VA spokeswoman issued the following statement: “The Department of Veterans Affairs, like the entire U.S. healthcare community, has made great strides in the treatment of mental illness since the 1950s. Today, VA is a leader in providing state-of-the-art, high-quality mental health care that improves and saves veterans’ lives,” the statement 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.”