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Bill to name VA building after vet who killed himself outside of it is reintroduced

Tennessee Valley Healthcare System - Alvin C. York in Murfreesboro, TN. (Veterans Health/Flickr)
February 27, 2019

A bill was just introduced on Monday to rename a VA facility after an Army vet who died by suicide there.

Under bill H.R. 1341, the Murfreesboro, Tennessee VA mental health building would be renamed the Sgt. John Toombs Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Facility.

The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who originally introduced the bill in May 2017. It passed the House in Sept. 2018, but never made it passed the Senate before the new congressional term.

AMVETS and the parents of Sgt. John Toombs circulated a petition asking for Rep. DesJarlais to reintroduce the bill. Within two weeks, the petition had more than 26,000 signatures. As of Wednesday, the petition is over 34,000 — nearing its goal of 35,000.

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If the bill passes this time, it is a way for the country to address veteran suicide, like that of Sgt. John Toombs.

Sgt. John Toombs gave his service in the Army National Guard for six years.

He deployed to Afghanistan in 2011-12, but when he came home, he was diagnosed with PTSD and developed a substance abuse problem.

In 2016, Toombs admitted himself to a 90-day treatment program at the Murfreesboro, Tennessee VA hospital. After 70 days of sobriety, he was forced to leave the facility immediately on Nov. 22, 2016, after showing up late to get his medication.

Toombs then went to the VA emergency room, but was refused admittance.

Toombs went across the street and took his own life in one of the VA buildings. Before he did, he posted a video to Facebook, in which he said he was kicked out “like a stray dog in the rain.”

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In an op-ed for The Hill, Sherman Gillums Jr., U.S. Marine Corps veteran, chief strategy officer for AMVETS, and veteran advocate said, “The best takeaway, if we can call it that, is the opportunity to do better when we know better. Sgt Toombs’s life is a cautionary tale that must be heeded if we truly want to confront veteran suicide in this country. One way to do this is to put in place a stark reminder of what ill-equipped and understaffed healthcare systems do to combat veterans, military sexual trauma survivors, and other veterans coping with ‘invisible’ injuries.”

“I make it a habit in my work as a veteran advocate to remind clinicians that there are no professional patients. That doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and administrators are the professionals; and patients don’t present before them because they’re feeling at their best. I remind these health-care workers that they chose their professions, but patients don’t choose to be patients and, therefore, should not be labeled as unwelcome when their behavior reflects a person in need,” Gillums wrote. “I only wish I had that opportunity to tell that to Sgt. Toombs’s providers before he literally took matters into his own hands.”