Model cars, old photos and stacks of well-organized medical records, that’s what Lisa Nagengast was busy packing away in boxes Thursday at her brother’s apartment in Columbus, Nebraska.
“I’m just trying to make sense of everything that has happened,” Nagengast said.
She’s cleaning out Greg Holeman’s apartment because he isn’t coming home.
“I already know the statistic for how many veterans commit suicide, and now my brother is one of those,” Nagengast said.
Holeman, an Army veteran who served as a mechanic, fatally shot himself inside his pickup truck on the night of February 25, a Platte County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant told ABC-affiliate KETV. The 48-year-old was parked outside of the Columbus Community Hospital’s emergency department.
Nagengast filed a missing person report with the Platte County Sheriff’s Office after a physical therapist reached out to her to let her know Holeman had missed his Tuesday and Thursday appointments.
Investigators found Holeman in his pickup truck in the hospital parking lot on Thursday, February 28.
“It just takes your whole breath away and you can’t even think or focus,” Nagengast said.
You may recognize Holeman’s name from a previous story that made national headlines last year after a Jimmy John’s employee helped him get to the hospital.
Holeman was in pain and experiencing numbness following a serious spinal surgery in October of 2018, and needed a ride to the emergency room.
The vet was hesitant to dial 911, saying that he was worried the VA may not pay the medical bill for the emergency visit without prior approval.
Nagengast made a phone call to get his brother some help, and accidentally dialed the Columbus Jimmy John’s number. A driver there stepped up, and gave Holeman a ride.
Holeman later told Nagengast that the VA denied his claim for compensation for that hospital visit– not the first time he’s had to fight for coverage, Nagengast said.
“He just felt like he wasn’t getting the help or the care that he needed,” Nagengast said.
He eluded to that in the last note he wrote. Investigators found the piece of paper in Holeman’s wallet.
In it, he asked for someone to care for his dog, Bruce, who he said is a rescue and had been abused by previous owners.
The next paragraph blasted the VA.
“The sentence that stood our for me was he was tired of the VA B.S. and drama,” Nagengast said.
She says her brother’s frustration goes back years.
“This is nothing but copies of his medical records,” Nagengast said as she showed stacks and organized file folders full of paperwork.
“Trying to file claims, trying to get the authorization to get care that was needed or necessary,” Nagengast said, “it just seems very burdensome.”
Nagengast explained that his brother spent months trying to get help for his back, filling out paperwork to prove that his pain stemmed from the nerve damage in his back.
“He had to sit there and fight and go through an appeals process to say this truly was an issue with [his] back and it’s just ridiculous,” Nagengast said.
Some lawmakers agree. Nebraska senators like Tom Brewer, who is a veteran himself, believe a complete overhaul of the system is necessary.
“If we make it so difficult for them that they give up, we shouldn’t be surprised when so many of them are taking their own lives,” Brewer said over the phone.
KETV reached out to the VA with questions, but a spokesperson said the department is unable to discuss specifics of a veteran’s care due to privacy laws.
VA public relations spokesperson Kevin Hynes released the following statement, in part:
“Our deepest condolences go out to Mr. Holeman’s family for their loss. Suicide prevention remains VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many. That’s why VA is implementing a wide range of prevention activities to address many different risk factors. We are working alongside dozens of partners, including the Department of Defense, to deploy suicide prevention programming that supports all current and former service members- even those who do not come to VA for care.”
Nagengast said Bruce, her brother’s dog, will be coming home to Florida with her.
If you or somebody you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to speak with somebody at any time. To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, press 1. You can also text 838255.
For additional information and resources, visit afsp.org.