Patricia Sims has grown used to the jingling that accompanies her every movement.
The sound is her son’s dog tags. They hang around her neck, worn since Memorial weekend last year, when Issac Shawn Sims was shot and killed by Kansas City police after a five-hour standoff.
“It hasn’t gotten any easier,” Issac’s mother says. “Sometimes I just pretend that he’s on deployment, that he’s in another land.”
For a year now, the Kansas City mother has regularly coaxed herself back from the edges of rage when her thoughts become dark, focused on that day, running through the many morbid details she knows, the many questions she still asks.
Issac, a 26-year-old Iraq War veteran, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He’d begun eating only military rations, couldn’t sleep and had migraines.
The morning he died, he’d taken his father’s yellow Hummer out to nearby fields, jumping it through the air, perhaps envisioning himself bouncing above roadside bombs. Police were called and the situation escalated when they learned he was armed. The neighborhood was evacuated, his mother and father kept from attempting to reason with their only son.
Eventually, police said Issac emerged from a garage area at the back of the family home and pointed a rifle at them. He died of multiple gunshot wounds.
Issac, who had always told his mother how happy he was that he’d never had to kill anyone during his two tours in Iraq, was dead because the police feared he’d shoot them or his parents or someone in the neighborhood.
Patricia doesn’t know if this holiday weekend will be a celebration of Issac or a day of mourning. She has decorated for both: streamers and American flags and banners in his honor flutter on the porch and line the street. Her daughter and grandchildren were to arrive from Texas but at the last minute weren’t able to make the trip.
She’s still hopeful that a few of Issac’s former buddies, members of the 82nd Airborne, will arrive at the family’s small bungalow house. Some have stayed in touch, texting her messages of comfort on Mother’s Day, posting notes and pictures on Facebook of tattoos inked in Issac’s honor.
She worries that she’ll just want to hide from everyone though.
A few months ago, an attorney the family was working with decided there were no grounds to pursue a wrongful death claim. At first, Patricia was outraged. She thought her son’s death couldn’t possibly be justified, mostly because it seemed so preventable had he only gotten help for his PTSD.
The former staff sergeant had been ruled 70 percent disabled from PTSD from his military service. He also had hearing loss and traumatic brain injury, remnants of an IED explosion.
The soldier had gone through Kansas City’s veterans court, pleading guilty to a domestic assault charge involving his estranged wife. In exchange for the plea, he was to accept treatment for PTSD from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Multiple times, he and his family tried to get that treatment. But they say they were turned away, told no beds were available.
“That’s the thing with PTSD,” his mother says. “There’s not blood coming out, so they think you are fine.”
The VA’s Office of Inspector General announced it would look into allegations that Issac had been shunned from care. No report had been released as of Friday.
When she begins to feel herself swelling with anger, especially toward the police, Patricia holds back by reminding herself that family members have been police officers.
“The police just didn’t know what a good person he was,” she says. “They were just doing their job.”
She has thought about finding another lawyer. But the prospect of looking at the autopsy report again, the photos of the aftermath, discussing that day in detail, is daunting. And none of it would bring Issac back.
A reporter from Stars and Stripes spent much time with the family, penning a four-part series on Issac and the problems returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have finding sufficient treatment for PTSD.
That helped. The interviews, the idea that the articles might influence changes at the VA.
While Issac’s mother is doing her best to cope, she fears her husband is simply subsisting, slowly dying of his grief.
A Vietnam veteran, Adrian Shawn Sims was already in poor health before his son was killed. His boy was his pride and joy for serving in the military, for carrying on a long family tradition of service. This past year, he went into a diabetic coma for a few days. He also suffers from dementia and PTSD from his service, his wife says.
He has never been to Leavenworth National Cemetery, where his son’s ashes rest. The cemetery is one of two places his wife finds some solace.
The other, ironically, is the VA hospital 2 miles from their home, the place where her son did not find treatment. She likes taking greeting cards, for Valentine’s Day and Easter, to the soldiers there.
She only recently laundered and folded the last of her son’s things, his Army clothes. Everything else of his is mostly untouched since the day he died.
She wants to believe that his death may have influenced efforts to help veterans get treatment faster. She plans to reinvigorate a push for Issac’s Law, intended to spur medical treatment for veterans after their service has ended.
“It was just the day that God picked for everything to go down,” she says of the Memorial holiday 2014. “But surely it made a difference in some other soldier’s world.”