100.Sonny Iovino, Schizophrenia and Death


I asked my friend and web site editor AnAmerican to write this article from a professionals standpoint and experience. It is chilling what happened to Sonny Anthony Iovino and the frightening thing is, this actually happened and was allowed to happen. I want the world to understand, that Sonny might not have ever been present mentally the last few days of his life…

Story by AnAmerican

There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.
Jan Schakowsky (Democratic Congresswoman,Illinois district)

As I read the articles relating to the death of Sonny Iovino my thoughts were not about this man being a veteran or a “public nuisance” but that this man was a human whose last moments on this earth were spent in the bitter cold, alone and without  dignity surrounding his death. He happened to be a human who had an illness which makes his death even sadder to read about as we as humans should care for those among us who aren’t able to care for themselves.  I can’t help but wonder how he would have been processed by his medical providers if he had an illness such as pneumonia or a cancer…would he have been offered a warm bed and compassionate care ? 

 It so happens that Sonny Iovino had a serious mental illness called schizophrenia..and mental illnesses are somehow stigmatized but no less serious in their effect on society than other medical illnesses.  It is widely known that there is an increase of homelessness among schizophrenics~due to the symptoms of the disease many find it hard to hold a job or have normal roles in society. Fact is ,these people are very ill if not adequately treated. I am just guessing that Sonny Iovino was one of the homeless that gives other homeless veterans a bad name with odd and often threatening  behavior to others, poor personal hygiene and a socially unacceptable  manner. Sonny probably was difficult to deal with and might have been viewed as dangerous to those unfamilar with the signs of his mental illness.  Sonny was sick and couldn’t help himself.The thing that haunts me about Sonny is the way he died~nude and from hypothermia. Although we will never really know what prompted his decision to run around without clothing in below freezing temperatures  we do know that schizophrenics experience alterations in reality. Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia include altered reality of seeing, feeling tasting ,hearing or smelling something that doesn’t really exist. The most common experience is hearing imaginary voices that give commands or comments to the individuals. They can also have delusions of thoughts or false ideas where they believe someone is spying on them as well as having speech that makes no sense and they make up their own words and sounds. So, was it possible that Sonny was considered a public “nuisance” as people witnessed this man who was displaying symptoms of an illness and perhaps assumed to be drunk or on drugs?  I would say it was very probable that his lack of clothing in freezing weather was prompted by altered reality where he was “told” to remove his clothing or perhaps perceived something on his clothes as a result of delusions( I pray those same voices comforted  him as he slowly slipped into unconsciousness and he avoided any suffering.) 

Is Sonny Iovino’s case so unique that those who were involved in his care not aware of the risks of his illness?. I wish this were the case but unfortunately it is not.  A public database that tracks reported mental illness “tragedies” shows that schizophrenic homeless people do have  incidences of death and harm to others. I found 104 entries for homeless people with schizophrenia listed and of these 71 deaths…27 deaths of schizophrenics and 44 deaths of victims of schizophrenics.  (To get a really up close and personal view of the seriousness of schizophrenia read record ID 3829 on this database where a homeless 23 year old female threw her 3 children off a pier in San Francisco. Sonny’s case is not yet listed.)  Use keyword SCHIZOPHRENIA and click the homeless dot. Clearly, those who work with schizophrenics (medical personnel, social workers,law enforcement) know the serious nature of the risks of schizophrenics who are homeless.

As a clinician I know other medical providers don’t need to read  such reports  as  all who are involved in the care of patients abide by the oath  “do no harm”.  We will never  know the real events that surrounded the last hours of Sonny Iovino’s life but from an outsiders view it seems that those who could have helped this man, those who were trained professionals in dealing with mental illness choose not to.  I hope that Sonny Iovino and all the victims of this horrible disease who lost their lives will rest in peace….there will be more deaths until those who are appointed to care for these folks choose to help.

Wanderingvet: I do not know what to say about the mental picture I have here, except for extreme sadness and an inner rage at this senseless death of a Homeless Vietnam Veteran.

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3 Responses to “100.Sonny Iovino, Schizophrenia and Death”

  1. 1 unluckyone1369
    January 4, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Dear wanderingvet, I came across your blog through a search on homeless veterans and find great interest in your postings. Myself, a veteran whom works with the homeless., do empathize with your sadness over the death of our comrade and fellow vet Sonny Iovino. But I do not understand how you think rage will bring about change. May I suggest you find ways to transform that rage into love and compassion, for only when one acts in love are they able to be a conduit for change. Rage is an emotion for those out for revenge, love is an emotion for those out for justice. Thank you very much for your postings. I feel God has lead me to your blog for there is a lot for me to learn from your observations and experiences and I will be checking in regularly.

    Dear Friend

    Thank you for your comment. I also appreciate your service in the past as well as what you do today for the homeless. The rage is from having one of our own in the hands of those that could have and should have done what was compassionately and morally correct in this situation. Unfortunately in Mr. Iovino’s case, none of the above occurred. That this is not an isolated incident and happens throughout this nation and actually being tried to be turned into a case of “He declined services” and “its not our fault that we do not deal with the mentally ill” by a sheriff, a case of a trained psychiatrist in a VA Hospital washing his hands of this veteran, causes anger that it happened before and it will happen again. That because Mr. Iovino was not considered “worthy” of treatment and all of his warning signs were ignored. The fact that he was a Homeless Vietnam Veteran and not a Rock Star or other celebrity of dubious social worth, would have been catered to about a pimple on his or her butt. The fact that this Homeless Veteran suffered, everyone says hypothermia is a peaceful way to go, well it is not. Being Homeless myself I can tell you that cold is painful. Go outside and stand naked for 20 minutes in 20 degree temperatures and feel the pain of arriving at that “peaceful” state. Yes I am mad about what happened to this veteran, services denied by the VA (federal), Social Worker (state), Homeless Shelter (non-profit), Law Enforcement (city and county), and the convenient way they are trying to smooth this over.

    Someone besides Sonny Iovino is to be accountable for this, it is that love for others in me that wants to insure it never happens again to another Homeless Veteran.


  2. 2 Jeff
    January 4, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    The death of Sonny Iovino was a tragedy in the absolute literal sense. Merriam Webster defines tragedy as “a serious drama typically describing a protagonist and a superior force and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror.” It makes one wonder how many Sonny Iovinos there have been over the years. One occurred here recently in Cary, NC in September 2007; a veteran met his untimely death in a ditch on Highway 54. (See link http://www.carynews.com/front/story/7382.html)Another local report spoke of a former engineer and proud Vietnam veteran found strangled in his bed rails at a Cary, NC assisted living facility in October 2007. (See link http://www.newsobserver.com/print/friday/city_state/story/734394.html) These are only two stories that found their way to the printed page or to the airwaves of lives wasted in plain view, right here on sacred ground. Have the lives of our veterans become so devalued, and the sanctity of life forgotten?

  3. January 4, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    I am outraged by the (non)treatment Sonny Iovino received. As a person incapacitated by mental illness, he could no more “refuse services” than an unconcious person could. Schizophrenia is a sadistic disease in that it renders its’ victims unable to ask for help, unable to trust the help they might be able to get, and unable to continue the help they might be getting.
    It is unacceptable that in 2007, we take better care of dogs in this country than we do our veterans. We will put a professional ball player in prison for dog fighting, but Sonny Iovino can freeze to death naked and alone under a bridge and all of the people who should have been caring for him will be allowed to sweep him under the rug with no consequences to themselves whatsoever.
    We will put a car thief in prison for stealing an inanimate object, but Sonny Iovino’s death isn’t worth the trouble. We have a national database for stolen cars. There are entire television networks devoted to showing stolen cars in chases on highways.
    Unfortunately, none of those cameras were there when Sonny lay dying. No one was keeping up with him on a database. There is no television network devoted to keeping up with United States Veterans.
    We only count their deaths on foreign soil. At home, in their own country they are just another dead guy under a bridge.
    If that doesn’t call for rage, I’ll kiss your ass on the courthouse square at high noon.
    Is there a database somewhere that shows how many vets there are out there that are homeless, needing medical attention, needing psychiatric attention, needing care? If not, WHY not? If so, whoever is supposed to be keeping up with it needs to get off of their federally mandated fruit break and get back to work before another Sonny Iovino loses his fight on “friendly” ground.
    I hope you’re doing well, wanderingvet.
    I’m thinking of you.

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