96.Death Of A Homeless Veteran

Sonny Iovino 

Dear Friends:

The following story is horrendous. Sonny Iovino, a schizophrenic Vietnam Veteran dies under a bridge in Iowa. The senseless death of this mentally ill and homeless veteran will leave you speechless and angry. That those involved as Mental health care workers in our VA system will not face prosecution is mind boggling as well. The link is here http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119828898946246417.html?mod=googlenews_wsj the whole story is copied below.

Free to Die in Iowa


Iowa City, Iowa — It’s the time of year when the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is aired on cable channels at all hours. You know the story: How George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, arrives on a bridge in a fit of despair, ready to take his own life. How the angel Clarence steps in and gives him a glimpse of what Bedford Falls would be like if he had never existed. How in the end the town comes together to save George from financial ruin, and the angel Clarence gets his wings.Well, after the death of Sonny Anthony Iovino, a 55-year-old, mentally ill Vietnam veteran who froze to death here last month under the Benton St. Bridge, I don’t think I’ll ever see “It’s a Wonderful Life” in quite the same way. There was no kindly angel to rescue this man, who suffered from chronic schizophrenia. He wasn’t standing on a bridge thinking of ending his life; he was huddled beneath one trying to stay alive.His community, my community, didn’t come together to save him from ruin. Instead it refused him shelter, refused him even the most basic of medical care when he needed it most.On Nov. 7, at 3:57 p.m., police responded to a report of a body under the Benton St. Bridge. Upon arrival they found Iovino, nearly naked, dead. The Johnson County Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be hypothermia. Local police officers had tried to get Iovino the care he needed just 48 hours before his death. But he was refused a bed at the local homeless shelter and then turned away from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here because he was “uncooperative.”After Iovino’s death, a spokesman for the VA Medical Center told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “If somebody doesn’t want to be treated, you can’t treat them.” This is simply not the case. Given his debilitated state, the VA psychiatrist on duty could have forced Iovino to receive the treatment that might have saved his life.Most states, including Iowa, have passed assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws. According to these statutes, “you must continue to take your medication or you may be committed,” says Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, author of “Surviving Schizophrenia” and president of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to the treatment of mental illnesses. Dr. Torrey notes, however, that states often fail to use AOT laws because of strict commitment standards and poorly outlined procedures.In fact, Iowa’s commitment standard is better than many states’, which demand that a person be an “imminent” danger to himself or others. In Iowa, however, to be eligible for AOT a person must lack sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions concerning treatment; and be either (1) a danger to self/others or (2) unable to satisfy the need for “nourishment, clothing, essential medical care, or shelter so that it is likely that the person will suffer physical injury, physical debilitation, or death.”When Iovino was picked up by police just two days prior to his death, he was digging up the earth with his bare hands, talking to himself, barefoot in frigid weather, and huddling near a building’s exhaust vent to stay warm. He was at the very least a danger to himself.Police convinced Iovino to put his shoes back on and cited him for trespassing. They received another call a few hours later and found that he had removed all his clothing but his pants. They again helped him get dressed and sent him on his way. When called back a third time, they took him to the VA Medical Center, where he asked for medicine. When the VA did not admit him, the officers took him to the county jail, which also refused him, saying he needed immediate medical care.“It happens increasingly often,” says Dr. Torrey. “As many states, Iowa included, shut down beds for mentally ill patients then there’s two places they can go: the streets and jails. Our nation’s jail keepers are tired of being their communities’ primary mental-health facility.”But that’s precisely what they are. According to a study by the Justice Department last year, 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of local jail inmates suffer from mental illnesses. There are now more mentally ill Americans behind bars than in hospitals.Nevertheless, civil libertarians seem more concerned with a patient’s civil rights than his very survival. For example, despite a study released in 2005 by the New York State Office of Mental Health showing a marked decline in arrests, hospitalizations, incarcerations, homelessness, and threats of violence and suicide for patients under that state’s “Kendra’s Law,” the New York Civil Liberties Union lobbied against the law’s renewal that same year.

Even without a well-functioning AOT program, Iovino didn’t have to die that November night. The VA Medical Center could have filed what is called an “emergency petition” and held him for several days.

“There is no question that the VA doctors could have done a short-term commitment,” says Dr. Torrey. “That generally keeps a patient in the hospital up to 72 hours.” Once a patient is held under emergency petition, court commitment procedures can go forward.

So, why wasn’t Iovino held and treated at the VA Medical Center, where he had asked for medication? A VA spokesman assures me they are “aware of what the law says.” But perhaps they’re not fully aware. Or perhaps they’d just grown tired of his antics. It’s hard to say.

One thing’s certain: No kindly angel received his wings the night Sonny Iovino froze to death.

Mr. Judge, an Iowa-based freelance journalist, is a contributing editor at the Far Eastern Economic Review

This Story is copied from http://www.vawatchdog.org

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3 Responses to “96.Death Of A Homeless Veteran”

  1. 1 tbearly
    December 27, 2007 at 11:34 am

    This story has just disgusted me. Mr. Iovino was obviously not competent to decide anything for himself, and the 72-hour hold should be in effect at every VA just as it is in virtually every hospital in America if he is considered to be a danger to himself or others. I believe a patient with chronic Schizophrenia who is clearly not taking his meds just may suffice.

    The VA has no excuse for not keeping him. But this is yet another tragic example of not only how we are treating our veterans, our homeless, but also our mentally ill. Whether we want to see it, believe it, think about it or not, there are people in this society who cannot take care of themselves. It’s a shameful example of what this culture is becoming.

  2. 2 AnAmerican
    December 27, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    This story not only disgusts me but scares me and deeply saddens me as well. First, anyone in healthcare knows that people who are a harm to themselves or others require intervention…people with mental illness lack insight and good judgement due to their mental illness. Secondly, if this man was known to be off his meds,why wouldn’t the VA have fear that he might inflict harm onto others and himself…once again schizohrenia is a disease that often is accompanied by hallucinations and an altered sense of reality. Lastly, an organization that feels it is okay to let one of the people who it is supposedly serving slip through the system because he is “uncooperative” is negligence and downright inhumane given his known history of mental illness.
    The VA has demonstrated gross negligence in this case…and in the process has shown how little they value veterans.

  3. 3 M.Ferri
    January 15, 2008 at 12:07 am

    I’m not a doctor, but I have been doing some reading about hypothermia lately. The article makes it seem like he was stripping and acting strangely because of mental illness, which may be, but that is also one of the things that can happen to anybody in the final stages before death due to hypothermia.

    See here:

    “20% to 50% of hypothermal deaths are associated with a phenomenon known as paradoxical undressing. This typically occurs during moderate to severe hypothermia as the victim becomes disoriented, confused, and combative. The hypothermic victim may begin discarding the clothing they have been wearing, which in turn increases the rate of temperature loss. There have been several published case studies of victims throwing off their clothes before help reached them.”

    It makes you wonder how often people who are freezing to death are incorrectly taken to be mentally ill.

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