For the first since her son’s death in what is often termed “suicide by cop,” Patricia Sims said she felt joy.
“This is for the next soldier,” Sims said Thursday.
Her son, Issac Shawn Sims, was an Iraq veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when he practically goaded police to shoot him over Memorial Day weekend 2014. Sims held Kansas City officers at bay for five hours at his family’s East Side home. He died of multiple gunshot wounds, police accounts said, after pointing a rifle at officers.
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Sims was 26.
Now the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct a nationwide review of wait times and occupancy rates for relevant inpatient and other programs, as recommended by the Office of Inspector General. The report assessed Sims’ treatment and was released Wednesday. The report labeled Sims’ care as “inadequate.” The review came after a request by Rep. Kevin Yoder.
That Patricia Sims’ son’s case could possibly lead to substantial action is “one small step.”
After two tours in Iraq, Issac Sims was determined to be 70 percent disabled from PTSD from his military service. He also had hearing loss and traumatic brain injury, possibly the results of an improvised explosive device that detonated. On the day he died, he’d spent the morning taking his father’s Hummer to nearby fields, bouncing over the terrain, acting as if he were patrolling for IEDs.
Sims’ parents said they had tried in vain to get him help for his PTSD at the VA, a mere 2 miles from their home.
The family said Sims had been told he’d have to wait 30 days for inpatient treatment for PTSD.
Although the VA’s report did not substantiate the family’s allegation, the inspector general did find Sims’ needs “were not fully assessed” and “appropriate consults were not made” when Sims was treated in the emergency department.
And 35 days after Sims was screened, he was assigned an admission date to a program for some of his health issues, the report said. But a few days later, he was dead.
The Kansas City VA Medical Center also issued a statement that said in part: “We have conducted a thorough review of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report and in this case realize that some aspects of care could have been handled differently.”
The story of Issac Sims is familiar to people who desperately try to help adults with mental health issues. Struggling veterans are a subset of this larger social issue, with some people unable or unwilling to fully participate in their own care. The report noted missed or canceled appointments, some with Sims not showing up. And at other times with the VA not following through.
Sims had been ordered to get PTSD treatment in exchange for a guilty plea on a domestic assault charge. The plea came through the veterans court, a portion of the Municipal Court that tries to expedite help for veterans when they run afoul of the law, possibly because of dealing with issues like PTSD, which many try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
“They need to treat PTSD like a heart attack,” Patricia Sims said of the VA. “Just because a veteran isn’t bleeding, you don’t turn them away.”
Other recommendations by the report were to the Linwood Boulevard VA, where Sims sought treatment.
Many of those reviews and changes have already occurred, said spokesman Joseph L. Burks. New procedures and guidelines have been put in place after audits were conducted. Trainings have also occurred.
And there’s one line in the VA report that bolsters Patricia Sims’ hopes by noting that “addressing these issues now will help facilitate a more patient-centered environment, especially for those veterans with complex medical, mental health and psychosocial issues.”
Sims was clearly troubled at the time of his death. How much was due to his service-related injuries, the PTSD, and how much could be attributed to other causes will never be known. His marriage to a woman he’d met in Thailand was unraveling. He had migraines, wasn’t sleeping and had begun primarily eating military rations.
His mother had become scared to ride in a vehicle with him, as he often drove fast and erratically.
The family knew he needed help. His father is a veteran of Vietnam and has his own struggles with PTSD and other serious health problems. The family has long depended on the Linwood VA for the father’s care.
Although the investigation did not link Sims’ care with the circumstances of his death — “Whether addressing these issues previously would have resulted in a different outcome for the patient is unknown,” the report reads — his mother believes it would have made all the difference.
But she also says that God was ready for her son. And she’s trying to focus on the possibility of positive changes.
“Someone is now paying attention,” she said. “I have faith that they will do the right thing for other veterans.”