By Maria Elena Cruz
SAN ANTONIO—Sunday’s killings in Sutherland Springs, Texas was the final chapter in the disturbed life of Devin P. Kelley. Kelley, a former United States Air Force Airman, had served in the military before being discharged for misconduct and then sent on his merry way. Kelley went on to shoot dozens of parishioners in a small Texas church in what officials are now calling the worst mass-shooting in Texas history.
For many veterans and ex-military personnel, this story—albeit not as tragic—sounds uncannily familiar. Veterans have long complained of the ineffectiveness of military care, whether it be for mental or physical ailments.
Beatrice Blackmon, OLLU veteran and social work major says many of her friends and colleagues were treated unfairly upon their discharge from their military service. “I know a couple of guys who were out there, and they were homeless, I mean, even when I came to the VA I saw guys just waiting to get processes and get their disabilities and their services. They were just in limbo, or going around in circles,” said Blackmon.
Blackmon served in the U.S. Navy before being discharged in 2004. During that time she was shot and suffered PTSD. Trip to the VA became common and frequent for her, and while she says she may have been one of the lucky ones, she saw many others around her being denied or delayed proper care. “Many times they are not giving them the proper diagnosis that they needed. And I think it really is because they wouldn’t have to give them benefits. That’s how I honestly feel about it.”
In Kelley’s case, preliminary reports seem to suggest his mental health was largely ignored by the military once he became violent and aggressive. Kelley was found guilty by a general court-martial on two charges of domestic assault against his wife and stepson under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He was sentenced to 12 months confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California, according to the D.O.D website, but nothing is ever mentioned about his mental health or care he may have received while he was enlisted. His disciplinary discharge — a bad conduct discharge — did not prohibit him from owning a gun.
For Blackmon, she is the exception and not the rule when it came to obtaining the care she needed upon her exit from the military. “I really think it was the luck of the draw, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and the right people got my file.”