By: Alex Sundby | CBS News
April 15, 2019
Three veterans shot themselves to death at Veterans Affairs facilities within five days earlier this month. The suicides happened in Georgia and Texas.
Lisa Johnson told CBS affiliate WMAZ-TV she called authorities at the VA April 5 to warn them about her brother, Navy veteran Gary Pressley. "I told them, you know, my brother's there in the parking lot and that he has a gun and he's talking about killing himself," Johnson told the station.
Pressley was found dead inside his car at the VA medical center in Dublin, Georgia, WMAZ-TV reported, citing a police report. "I just wish they would have found him and stopped him, locked him up, did whatever they had to do because I need my son here," his mother, Machelle Wilson, told the station.
She said her son couldn't get the help he needed after he was in a car accident and discharged in 2012 and that he was haunted by what he saw serving in Haiti after its devastating earthquake in 2010. "He started talking about, 'Mom, I'm just, I can't, I don't have the fight in me anymore,'" Wilson told the station.
Officials at the medical center wouldn't comment to the station about Pressley, citing patient privacy concerns. In a statement, the center said it was reviewing its policies and procedures.
On the day after Pressley died, over 125 miles away from Dublin, authorities said another veteran shot himself to death outside the VA medical center in Decatur, Georgia, outside Atlanta. Olen Hancock, 68, shot himself outside the center's main entrance, the DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Hancock was seen pacing in the center's lobby before he went outside, WSB-TV reported. Three days later in Texas, another veteran took his own life.
The unidentified veteran shot himself to death inside a VA clinic in Austin, KXAN-TV reported. Witnesses told the station there were hundreds of people inside the waiting room on the clinic's first floor when shots rang out.
CBS affiliate KWTX-TV reported the veteran's case was transferred to the clinic from a hospital in Temple, about 65 miles away. "When he found out he couldn't get the help he needed there, he chose to take his own life," McLennan County Veteran Services Officer Steve Hernandez told the station.
According to the VA, about 20 veterans die by suicide every day. "These are tragedies that we hear about far too often," Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson said in a statement in the wake of the two deaths in his home state of Georgia.
Isakson's counterpart in the House, Chairman Mark Takano of California, said in a statement that three other veterans have died by suicide on VA property this year. "This is a national crisis that we all need to address," Takano said.
Service members, veterans and those concerned about their mental health can call the Veterans Crisis Line to speak to trained professionals. To talk to someone, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, there is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, text a crisis counselor at 741741 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.