Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Whose to blame.

The traffic is heavy; cars speeding into small places to get in and out of traffic. A small stout man has an inexpensive push mower looking for a space to cross. He has a hump between his hips and back and has an awkward walk. He makes it across the first two lanes and waits in the left turn lane to cross the final two.  People so intent on getting to work, putting on make-up, drinking coffee, taking a quick look at their phones, adjusting the radio dial and he stumbles. Prayer for him is all I can think.

The lumbering walk was more difficult because of the extra weight he carried when he was in the lunch line of the school I worked. Mowing grass has trimmed him. The deep overbite and questioning eyes stay in my mind.

I have a developmentally delayed brother and a sister with schizophrenia. What I could dismiss is a reality to me.  

“Junebug” Sammie Davis shot and killed by Officer Sutton in Macon, GA. An innocuous situation that got out of hand. Essentially, Junebug spent his days at a Kroger eating chips and swilling soda. Having schizophrenia, he had bad days as well as good. There was mention he didn’t always take his medicine.  Isn’t a bad day possible for us all.

News of the shooting made me incredibly angry. The GBI cleared Officer Sutton. Officer Sutton had a cut on his neck made by Junebug’s fingernail. I would have fought for my life too.
The mental health system in this country is to blame. You have people drawing large salaries to manage an ill prepared and unfunded mental health care system. The people who actually work with the clients earn low salaries.

Junebug lived with a sister. Her entire paycheck would take the cost of a day program. I retired early to care for my mother and two handicapped siblings. I started writing as a release. At least I could retire. I run a precarious balance between taking care of these people and not worrying about money.  

People think I am getting a lot of money from the government. My mother gets about $500 a month in Social Security and my brother’s paycheck from a workshop he attends. I spend about 3 hours a day shuttling him back and forth and about $400 a month in gasoline for him to attend. I take him because it is good for him mentally and it keeps him in the system if something should happen to me.

A little better job is done with the developmentally disabled. I’m not keen about him living in a group home. So many lose their language skills and are very lonely. You have to make an effort to interact with them beyond the niceties of telling someone hello.

My sister was arrested in 2008 for being mentally ill. She was causing a problem but the problem was rooted in her mental illness being untreated. As the district attorney told me, the law does not treat the mentally ill well.

My sister gets disability from Social Security which started in 2009. After medicare insurance payments, it is about $520 a month. I give her $200 spending money. The rest is for her living expenses and medical needs. She has about $5000 in a thrift retirement fund with the government from her employment. It will take about $1000 in legal fees and much work to empty that account. She would qualify for Medicaid if that money was no longer there. With the current political climate in GA, I would be crazy to get her on Medicaid.

Before anyone wants to tell me how lucky I am to get that help; yes, it makes a big difference. She would need to be assisted living at the state’s dollar if I could not care for her. However, the current system would allow her to live under a bridge because that would be her choice. I pay over $10,000 a year in taxes and so does another brother of mine.

The 26 year old officer learned a huge lesson that night about the mentally ill. Expensive and exhaustive to deal with individuals like my sister, numerous traffic stops ended in inaction. That officer’s inexperience saved my sister’s life. She was dying. The human body can only take so much neglect.

The 29 year old Sutton also learned a huge lesson and Junebug paid the price. It wasn’t Officer Sutton that killed Junebug, it was a mental health care system that is broken that killed him. His sister is still angry and I understand. But the real problem is there needs to be a day program for individuals like her brother and my sister. Mental illness is a devastating illness for its sufferers and their caretakers.  

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