I don’t know if it’s true or not.
I know the problem of veteran suicide in America and Montana is quite real, however.
Back in 2013 the VA figured that 22 veterans a day were killing themselves. That’s 8,030 a year.
In Montana last year we had 50 veterans kill themselves, which is almost 1 a week.
So I’m posting this letter here for you to read in its entirety, with just a few spelling and grammar changes as well as some links to the doctors listed.
Thanks for caring enough to read it.
Writing this letter in regards to Veteran SUICIDE awareness and protocol.
This is an experience I pray no other VETERAN goes through what we experienced on 01 MARCH 2017 at Fort Harrison VA hospital in Helena, MT.
Here is our story.
On the 28th of Feb, 2017, I received a call from my brother about him killing himself. And a pistol was held to his head. And how he could no longer take the demons.
I acted fast, reached out to our fellow brothers and family members to keep him busy via text phone calls. To show him how many people care, as well as buy us time to travel from Seattle to Helena, MT.
During this time I contacted the Lewis and Clark County sheriff to do a wellness check on my brother, which they did. They tried to talk him into coming out, which he did not want. They stayed for several hours while we drove.
We finally arrived about 0430 in the morning of the 1st (March). Not sure what we were walking into exactly. Nervous, scared was met with thoughts of ‘is he still with us?’
Prayers answered, we found him alive and we lifted him up hugged him. He handed me over his pistols. We proceeded to load him in the car. To take him to get the help he so needed at the VA hospital (Ft Harrison) Helena, MT.
If we knew what was about to happen next, we never would have taken him there.
At 0615 on 01 March 17, we arrived (myself Army Vet, our other brother retired Army vet and our brother that needs help Army vet).
We went right to the emergency department at the VA hospital in Helena, MT. I go in to check him in. The individual asks what can they help me with.
I explain what is going on. My buddy’s trying to kill him self. And I give him his name.
Then they asked if he is enrolled at this facility. I replied yes and gave them his VA card.
I was then told the card does not work here. So I proceed to give him his last four cards. Then he tells me to go have a seat. About 15 min later the nurse calls us in.
Protocol at this point was not followed with the intake. We go into the room. The nurse proceeds to say WHY ARE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF?
My brother replies I can not do it any more.
She says do what?
Live with the demons.
She then says WHY WOULD YOU HAVE DEMONS?
He becomes very frustrated and wants to leave.
At this point I do, but blame him. He starts to leave and I ask her, there is nothing you can do?
She says, what do you want me to hog tie him?
I tell him let’s go, we will go get help.
At this point he is outside and he’s taken off. I and my other buddy can not find him. We finally end up locating him. We convince him to go to another VA center. We get him in the car and we proceed to leave the facility.
At this point we get stopped by the VA police car. We start talking and the officer tells us we can not and will not be leaving.
We explain everything that happened up to this point. The officer is in shock and states to us, well it's now a liability issue and if we could go back to the ER and let them know we don't want care, we can leave.
We agreed. Well, at this point our buddy is not having any of this.
One of us went in and did what the officer asked only to be told we are not going anywhere. We were being detained.
Well, this is not making things better. They want him in the hospital due to liability issues.
After about 10 minutes of negotiating with our buddy we get him out off the car and into the hospital. Now mind you, there are 4 police officers in the hall way and 3 nurses all standing, just looking at us.
We were introduced to Dr. Buck.
He gets to start a dialogue with our buddy, which is not going well. So I explained what the issue is to the Dr.
Now the time is around or about 0700 AM, at which point the doctor states, you have two options.
I say, which are?
Option 1. You do everything I tell you to do.
Or option 2. I'm gong to call the police. They are going to throw you in jail for 30 days and the courts will figure out what treatment you will get.
Think about that for a second…
My brother agrees to blood work. Now at this time things just get worse. Myself being a disabled service connected combat Veteran, I have never in my life seen this kind of treatment.
The nurses would not talk to us. The Dr would not talk to us. We asked when we could leave. They said when the blood work results come in.
So I started to reach out to other outlets. I called the director of this facility office, which not one employee knew snip about who Kathy Berger was. I was instructed to leave a message, which I did.
I then called the Veteran’s crisis line. I tried to get my brother to talk with them. He hung up. They called right back. And we had the great pleasure to talk with Steve from the crisis center. This man truly made things happen.
About 0845 Dr. Buck comes in and says mental health will be in as soon as they can. I asked him, when did you notify them?
He replied, I think around 0815.
At thus tone I get another call from Steve from the VA crisis center. I go outside to talk and explain what the situation is. At this point he gave me numbers to call to get my brother the help he needed.
I arrive back inside and started to explain what was discussed. A new Dr comes in and tells us we need to leave. We did not agree. We went back to be with our brother.
During this time I started a conversation with the two nurses. One treated us like we were wasting his day. I ask them, what's the protocol on suicide awareness? When and what training have you had?
The one nurse gets up and leaves. The other nurse says he thinks October. And we started for the first time going through the protocol which he found online.
3 hours later protocol finally being followed, sort of.
At 0906 Mr. Pratt comes in introduced himself. I asked him when he was notified. He said as soon as he heard he came right down.
At this point we go in another room. We explain this whole story. During this time I receive another call from Steve from the VA crisis line.
He set us appointments at the VA facility in Tacoma, WA, which is where I go. He also stated that they will be filing reports of the incident and that he let the behavior health team at the Ft. Harrison VA hospital know of our plans.
I go back in and join my BROTHERS and Mr. Pratt in the evaluation process and discuss our plan. We ended up getting released at 1100 AM. We wrote statements for the VA police, who ended up being great people. They were very helpful and concerned.
So as we’re getting ready to head back to Seattle I receive a call from a Brandon, an assistant to the director of VA hospital in Helena. I explain this whole story to him.
He states, well I will reach out to people to get the answers you seek. Might not be the ones you want but you'll get them.
At this point I want to know the protocol for suicide as awareness as well as training. About 30 minutes later I receive another call from a Julianne, the coordinator of behavior health. I explain everything again. She said she would be writing a report.
- What if myself and my other brother did not drive 12 hours?
- What if we did not call the sheriff?
- What if our brother was there by himself?
I honestly feel with my heart I would be burying a hero, my best friend, my brother. Instead we were there and we are driving him 12 hours away to get the help he needs. Thank you to the crisis line Steve and his staff!
So what next?
Think about this for a second. I read an article in the Helena paper or Missoula, not sure, online about Veteran SUICIDE in Montana. An alarming read.
Number 1 in the nation suicide amongst Veterans.
You know who the interview was with? Julianne from Ft. Harrison VA hospital in Helena.
How many veterans have gone here for help only to be treated like criminals? How many have left after that treatment and committed suicide?
We saved our brothers life.
What are you going to do?
- Jerry T Gondola
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