OEF veteran kills himself after being turned away by Kansas VA hospital

Rachel and Travis Patterson (Courtesy Photo)

A Kansas veteran who killed himself was begging for help at the Topeka VA hospital two days before his death, according to his widow.

Now, the bereaved wife of 26-year-old combat veteran Travis “Patt” Patterson is speaking out against a system that she feels could have easily prevented such a senseless loss.

Patterson had deployed to Iraq, Nigeria and Afghanistan, sustaining an IED blast during his tour while on the latter deployment. Suffering from nerve pain, bulging discs and migraines, he was discharged in the summer of 2016.

Often in constant pain, Patterson had a hard time going to work and school and walked with a cane. When he asked for a change of medications, pain management-leery doctors would outright refuse. According to wife Rachel Patterson, the physical limitations and ill-treatment by medical staff were crippling to her husband’s morale.

“As a veteran, being treated like that, basically treated like you’re a criminal, it hurts your pride. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re a person and that definitely contributed,” she said.

Unable to manage his pain, Patterson attempted suicide on January 25. When Rachel rushed her husband to the VA Emergency Room, the doctors took Patterson’s vital signs and said there was nothing they could do on the spot, saying the couple would have to either be admitted and seen in the morning or go home for a follow up appointment the next day. They chose the latter.

The following day, the medical staff said they could only offer therapy but would not address pain or medications. When Travis became irate, the VA issued him a list of therapists, a foam stress ball and a Veterans Crisis Line bracelet.

The next day, Travis Patterson was no longer among the living.

“He was driven to this because he didn’t get the help he should’ve gotten,” Rachel said. “I don’t believe the VA did everything they could have.”

Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and Patterson family friend Doug Mulqueen said the VA needs to change their procedures on how to better handle these cases.

“Travis did everything he was supposed to,” Mulqueen said. “For whatever reason this time, it failed.”

VA Eastern Kansas Suicide Prevention coordinator Stephanie Davis defended the facility, stating that the institution  “has worked to ensure that we have a structured response to anyone coming into the hospital experiencing thoughts of suicide.”

Davis described a bureaucratic method in which the VA determines when and at what pace mental health appointments or hospitalizations are triaged out, based on evaluations and other criteria.

“While we are unable to mention specifics on any veteran’s medical history, our staff goes above and beyond in reaching out to offer support and multiple treatment options,” she said.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, Patterson was a law student who planned on going into family law.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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