"It shouldn't be this hard to get help. He was trying to get help to be a better person, a better husband, a better man, a better father."
With these words, Jennifer Johnson, expresses her own grief and frustration over the recent suicide of her brother, Joshua Stiles. Stiles, a 30-year-old Army veteran, killed himself on May 16 shortly after killing his 22-year-0ld wife Brittney Stiles in front of her sister and their two-year-old daughter Mary Jane in Russellville, Alabama. He then fled the scene and evaded a police chase before taking his own life.
According to his sister, Joshua Stiles had been suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression for years prior to the murder-suicide but was unable to get proper treatment. His sister tried to have him voluntarily committed to Decatur Morgan Hospital only to be told there were no beds available. Another facility that Stiles contacted just days before his death told him that he would need to make an appointment. Even after contacting Veterans' Affairs, they were told that he would be sent paperwork to fill out and, if her were feeling suicidal, that he should go to the nearest emergency department for treatment.
The problem of finding mental health treatment in Alabama has been aggravated by the recent closing of several mental health facilities, not to mention funding cutbacks, which have left many patients scrambling to find help. Veterans are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems and a worker at the Veterans' Administration in Alalabama reported that veterans have one of the highest suicide rates. "We've got to do better at educating veterans about what we can do to help them when they leave military service," said VA social worker Amy Burks in an interview with local media. Of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day, an average of 14 aren't being treated by the VA.
According to Jennifer Johnson, her brother had been suffering from PTSD long before being deployed to Afghanistan due to trauma from their childhood. After joining the military in 2012, his problems became more severe and, following his return from deployment, "he just came back different," she said. Amy Burks says that this is not uncommon for veterans. "Mental health issues are compounded for veterans who serve combat tours," she said. "It's identity confusion when they are thrown back into civilian and family life with no road map. The system is just too hard to navigate."
Along with mourning the death of her brother, Jennifer Johnson and her other family members are also mourning the death of Brittney Stiles whom she describes as "the most beautiful, wonderful, sweet person. It's not like I just lost my brother. She was my best friend and my sister. She did not deserve this or anything they've been through. I am heartbroken for her loss as well. I feel like I failed them both."
"He wasn't this person," Johnson said of Joshua. "My brother would've never done this if he was in his right mind. I wish I could've saved him, and I tried. But, the mental health system just makes it too hard."