Advocates for mental health care for incarcerated veterans draw attention downtown

Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski fayobserver.com The mother of incarcerated Army veteran Joshua Eisenhauer quietly held a sign in his support, waving at cars that honked as they passed. "We're here today mostly for the mental issues - there's a lot of work to do," Eisenhauer's mother, Dawn Erickson, said. "Josh is just one face of this." She and about two dozen people gathered in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum on Monday to draw attention to the need of access to specialized mental health care for incarcerated soldiers and veterans. The vigil was led by the Fayetteville Quaker House, which has been circulating a petition pushing state leaders to provide better care for incarcerated service members like Eisenhauer, a former Fort Bragg staff sergeant who was sentenced to between 10 and 18 years in prison last year for charges related to a 2012 shooting at his apartment. He contends that he had a flashback to his days of Army combat duty in Afghanistan and didn't understand what he was doing. No one other than Eisenhauer was seriously injured. "I'm glad that this situation for Josh and other veterans is becoming more visible," Erickson said. "We need more awareness. There are lots of veterans that need mental health care. We don't think the prison is set up to handle specialized health care." Eisenhauer, who shot at police and firefighters from his Fayetteville apartment in January 2012, was released from the Army in late February on a general discharge under honorable conditions. The designation ensures that Eisenhauer, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is eligible for VA benefits. But he won't receive those benefits while he is in a North Carolina prison. Eisenhauer has been at Pender Correctional Institution, where family members say the prison isn't adequately treating his PTSD or a traumatic brain injury, an opinion disputed by the state's prison system. Family members say Eisenhauer is in an open room with 30 other prisoners and allowed to see a social worker only about once every two months. The prison abuts a shooting range, and the continual noise worsens his PTSD, they say. He recently was moved to Central Prison in Raleigh. The vigil was organized by Lynn Newsom, co-director of the Quaker House. "These veterans are all being left behind in the worst way," Newsom said. She held a sign that read "Incarcerated vets with PTSD/TBI need mental health care.'' She waved at cars that honked as they drove past the museum through the intersection at Hay Street and Bragg Boulevard. "I'm hoping they'll become aware of incarcerated vets," Newsom said, noting one in 10 prison inmates has served in the military and many suffer from PTSD and or traumatic brain injury. James Vangalder, a Vietnam veteran who retired with 34 years of service between the Air Force and Army Reserves, was among the dozens of people holding signs. He had never met Erickson or any of the Eisenhauer family. But that didn't matter. "It's for their honor," he said, explaining that he volunteers with Patriot Guard services or any veteran-centric cause. Vangalder has been following Eisenhauer's case. He learned about the vigil and knew he wanted to participate. "He put everything on the line, yet sometimes you wonder if we do enough for veterans," he said.  

Date: 
Monday, April 11, 2016 - 5:00pm