Beyond the Front Lines: Joyce and Kevin

Failed by the VA?

"When you look at the pictures from when [Jeffrey] came back, that smile didn't encompass Jeffrey as a whole," says Joyce of her son. "You would look at him and say, ‘Is this my son?'"

 

"The first real indication of a problem occurred on Christmas Eve. [Our daughter] Debbie found Jeff in the kitchen. He had been drinking, and he was crying," recalls Jeff's dad, Kevin. 

"He threw two dog tags at me and said, ‘Don't you understand? Your brother is a murderer,'" Debbie remembers.

"Jeff was having hallucinations. He was seeing camel spiders in his room," Kevin reveals. "I had ordered a book on PTSD. He went through all the symptoms. He was saying, ‘I have this. I have this. I have this,' and then finally he looked up at us with tears in eyes, and he said, ‘I'm going [expletive] crazy.'"

"I knew I was losing him. You could feel it," Joyce laments.

Jeff went to the VA for medical help. "I really had blind faith that we were delivering him into the arms of angels," Kevin says. "We were under the perception that he was going to be assessed. In fact, we were told that they refused to assess him for PTSD. How insane is that?"

 

Kevin recounts the night his son died. "It was about a quarter to seven, and I drove into the driveway. There was a light on in the far corner of the cellar, so I walked down. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw Jeff and I thought he was standing there, until I saw the hose double looped up around his neck. He was so cold, so clammy. I knew he was dead," he says, voice quavering.

Dr. Phil introduces Joyce and Kevin, along with Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, and Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He expresses his sorrow for Joyce and Kevin's loss and asks them, "Did your son fall through the cracks?"

"Definitely," Joyce replies.

Turning to Tammy, Dr. Phil asks, "What do you see from the inside looking out?"

Tammy, a fellow wounded warrior who lost her legs in combat, says, "Illinois has the only program in the nation that will actually take care of you at the state's expense for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We started this program precisely because I went to the VA." She explains that when she left Walter Reed Army Medical Center, they informed her that her medical records were forwarded to her local VA. "I had to wait three months, then I had to go to the VA and strip down and show a VA physician assistant my stumps to show him that I really was an amputee, because he would not take the word of the military surgeon who amputated my legs. Then I knew we've got to do something," she recounts. When she took her current position, she started the Illinois Warrior Assistance Program. "It is a mandatory screening of 100 percent of our Illinois National Guardsmen who return," she says. "The state will pay for everything from pharmaceutical to brain injury, if that's what you need, especially if you live more than an hour or 75 miles away from the nearest federal VA treatment facility. We're just not going to wait."

"We need you in Washington," Dr. Phil says to Tammy.

Dr. Phil asks Paul why the VA wasn't prepared for the returning vets.

"That's a great question for the president. That's a great question for Congress, and honestly, that's a great question for the American people," he says, adding that none of these entities can make the changes needed on their own. "We need the president-elect to focus on veterans every day, not just on Veterans Day. We need Congress to help. We also need the American people to step up. We all need to get involved and make every day Veterans Day."

Dr. Phil reads statements from the Veterans Affairs. "They said, ‘Critics who say the VA needs overhaul obviously haven't been at the VA.' They believe that their health care system is considered the best in the entire country. They think they're leaders in student and home loans, that you may hear about something, anecdotal situations, that are infrequent and that would be true with any good health care system or any good hospital. They have the largest number of mental health professionals in the world. They say they offer exceptional care, are leaders in traumatic brain injury research, and that they're screening everyone who comes to the VA " but that only started a year ago " in screening for traumatic brain injury. They have a massive campaign on suicide awareness, and the fact that soldiers are lost in the bureaucracy is just ‘not true.'"

"Somebody's lying through their teeth again," Col. Hunt says. "The problem you've got is there's not that care and concern for these people. Period. If you weren't doing the show today, no one would be talking about it."

Dr. Phil says that the VA and Department of Defense have an open invitation to appear on the show. "This isn't about throwing somebody under the bus," he says. "This is about having a discussion so we can mobilize our populous to march up Capitol Hill, if necessary, to get the attention that we need to do the things that Col. Hunt is talking about … We can spend $700 billion to bail out this company and these fat cats on Wall Street, and we can't spend that money for the men and women who have fought for America? That's a load of crap."