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Treating NH veterans: There is so much to do

January 08. 2014 5:52PM

Thomas Sitsch, 55, of Monroe, killed himself outside the Littleton Regional Healthcare emergency room. It was a tragic ending that might have been prevented had authorities responded more appropriately to the troubled Navy veteran.

Sitsch became known to Littleton police in a way that police officers in other New Hampshire towns will recognize. A collapsing marriage, run-ins with the law, and erratic behavior. There was a large fire at his home last February. He was arrested for shoplifting in Virginia last month. He had been in and out of court on charges that he violated protective orders. He was distraught over losing access to his children when his estranged wife moved with them to Vermont, and shortly before his suicide his lawyer contacted Littleton police to inform them that he might be mentally unstable.

These are familiar stories. Somewhere in the state there is a local police department, a local hospital or a court dealing with a similar situation.

Sitsch was an explosives expert who possessed numerous weapons and explosives in violation of a restraining order. Prosecutors in Vermont cited that when they asked a federal magistrate to order Sitsch locked up for violating the order last year, The Caledonian Record reported. The judge instead released Sitsch on his own recognizance and ordered him to stay out of Vermont. He would be New Hampshire's problem. It was a terrible mistake.

A legislative commission on post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury has just recommended that New Hampshire health care professionals be better educated about veterans' health issues. They are not the only ones who need the education. Judges, lawmakers, law-enforcement and emergency personnel do too.

Maybe it was pure coincidence that Sitsch was a Navy veteran. But the story of the final years of his life is filled with anecdotes that could be taken from the lives of other veterans who have become regular travelers through the legal and health systems of the state.

This is not to suggest in any way that all or even most veterans are prone to such collapses. It is simply to note that Sitsch's case is far from unique, and to request that the state continue working with health care professionals to find answers. One veteran falling through the cracks is one too many.

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