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VA Defends Care After Vet's 'Suicide by Cop'

By Juan Carlos Rodriguez
Journal Staff Writer
       Veterans Affairs officials defended their behavioral health services Thursday after an Iraq war veteran committed "suicide by cop."
    Meghan Gerety, the New Mexico Veteran's Affairs Heath Care Services chief of staff, outlined during a news conference the behavioral and mental health programs available to veterans for suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
    "VA has the widest array of mental health services in the nation. And we're very fortunate, as an organization, to have a series of residential programs for veterans who are in need or in distress. We built that series of programs deliberately, to offer a continuum of care," Gerety said. "Somebody who's homeless can also potentially get treatment for substance abuse and get vocational and other educational counseling to be able to reintegrate into the community."
    Gerety declined to discuss the case of Kenneth Ellis, who was shot by an Albuquerque Police Department detective Wednesday during a standoff at a Northeast Heights gas station. Ellis had been an infantryman with the U.S. Army, said his mother, Annelle Wharton.
    He had been kicked out of an in-patient PTSD program at the Albuquerque VA Hospital for missing an appointment, she said. He tried to get back into the program, but was told his bed had been given to someone else, she said.
    "We will do a thorough review of this patient's care, and we will do a thorough review of how well our program is functioning," Gerety said.
    She said the VA has made strides in treating PTSD, even since the Gulf War in the 1990s.
    "This is the first conflict where we've really had a systematic way of evaluating returning veterans and discharged veterans for these symptoms," Gerety said.
    Dave Fouse, with the Veterans of Foreign Wars in New Mexico, said the VFW works to get recent combat veterans into treatment by providing rides or other assistance. But he said the system is flawed.
    "It's all too common that veterans aren't getting the services they need, when they need it," Fouse said.
    Albuquerque spokeswoman Nadine Hamby said Detective Bret Lampiris-Tremba was the officer who shot Ellis. He was placed on a standard three-day administrative leave.





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