Vet says VA turned her away after asking for help; attempts suicide

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News spoke to a local veteran who said she nearly died waiting on help from the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

This comes just over a month after a Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered deaths, overdoses and red tape inside the veterans' hospital in DeKalb County.

Over the last six weeks, Channel 2's Aaron Diamant has spoken, both on and off camera, with grieving loved ones of several local veterans who took their own lives after falling through the cracks of what they, inspectors and lawmakers all call the Atlanta VA's broken mental health system.

Tuesday Diamant sat down with one of the survivors.

Therese Mangham's 22-year U.S. Army career came to an end in 2008, when Iraqi insurgents bombed her base.

"It's was just sheer pandemonium. It was crazy," Mangham said about the incident that has left her with seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.

"I was just spiraling out of control," Mangham said.

But when Mangham showed up at the Atlanta VA Medical Center's emergency room twice last fall, basically begging for help, she said both times mental health doctors told her the ward was full and she would have to wait many weeks for an outpatient appointment.

During that time, Mangham's fiancé threw her out.

"That was the thing that pushed me over the edge and I attempted to take my life. I'd just had enough," Mangham said.

She survived the 60 or so sleeping pills she took and ended up at the Phoenix Rising house in Decatur, a haven for homeless veterans.

"When you lived in a place where you afraid you're going to die any moment, how can you expect somebody to just hit land here and keep going?" said Carla Morgan with Phoenix Rising.

An ongoing Channel 2 Action News investigation already uncovered federal reports that linked mismanagement by hospital leaders to three mental health patient deaths including two suicides. Later, our reporting discovered a third suicide.

The Atlanta VA got a new director earlier this month, but still no word from VA leaders on any specific steps taken to fix a system lawmakers, and especially Mangham, say is broken.

"We're talking about our soldiers' lives, and we've paid the ultimate price on the battlefield," Mangham said.

Diamant received an email from the VA Tuesday, saying the new director Leslie Wiggins "continues her assessment of the medical center," and that appointment wait times for vets will drop once it expands mental health services at Ft. McPherson later this summer.

Since the incident with the VA, Mangham has become an advocate for other vets. She's also reconnected with the Wounded Warrior project. She will be heading to New York this week as a nominee for the organization's 2013 courage award.



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