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Shooting death raises questions about veterans’ mental health

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A DeKalb County support group established to protect the interests of veterans are searching for answers after a man was shot and killed by DeKalb County police.

Amos King, president of Justice for Veterans, said he was saddened by the news of Quintas Harris—a DeKalb County man killed Aug. 3 after he allegedly shot at police during what some said was a mental health breakdown.

Harris, 27, reportedly suffered from mental health issues ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

According to reports, the incident occurred at the Maple Walk Apartments in Decatur when Harris fired his weapon at two men before police arrived. Once DeKalb police were on the scene, Harris fired at officers and four DeKalb officers returned fire according to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation report.

Harris died of gunfire while DeKalb officer R. Mason was shot in the hand. The GBI said the incident is currently under investigation.

Harris’ family told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he struggled to accept help for his mental health issues after being discharged from the Navy and was off his medication the time of the incident.

“[The police] knew he had a problem, but what’s the recourse after you start shooting? We hear from veterans all the time that are suffering from mental health [issues],” King said. “I want to help prevent situations like this. There’s such a backlog of veterans waiting to receive help.”

The Aug. 3 incident wasn’t Harris’ first run-in with law enforcement. According to documents obtained by The Champion through an open records request, Harris was charged in October 2013 for obstruction of an officer, marijuana possession with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during a felony.

Amos King, president of Justice for Veterans, said he wants to help veterans suffering from mental health issues.

According to police, Harris was selling drugs at a local Foodmart while carrying a baby. When officers began questioning him, Harris swung at officers.

“One officer was punched in the face, one officer was bruised on the hand and another officer was involved in the altercation. On [Harris], there were 14 individual packages of marijuana, an unloaded 9mm firearm with three rounds and a magazine in a backpack,” an affidavit for Harris stated.

The following year Harris was charged with aggravated stalking, family violence battery and criminal trespassing when he kicked in the door of his child’s mother, punched her in the face and bit her finger, according to an affidavit.

“It’s just sad when you hear things like this. These veterans need our help,” Amos said. “This is a big concern because too many of them are dying young.”

In 2014, Harris was found incompetent to stand trial because he “was unable to demonstrate functional capacity with respect to legal proceedings…he could not exhibit an understanding of the nature and object of the proceeding against him,” according to court documents.

King said Harris’ situation is similar to that of Anthony Hill, a DeKalb County man who was shot and killed by police DeKalb County Police officer after officers responded to a call of a naked man acting erratically outside of an apartment complex. Hill, a veteran who was unarmed, was shot by former DeKalb Officer Robert Olsen. Hill’s family said he suffered from mental health issues.

“Both men were young,” King said. “These are young guys, young people gone too soon.”

In an interview with The Champion, Emily Blair, manager of military and veterans policy for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), said veterans of war after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are suffering from mental illness at a high rate.

According to Military Health Policy Research, 20 percent of veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either depression or PTSD. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration concluded that half of returning veterans who need mental health treatment will not receive the services they need.

“There are a lot of challenges and one of the signature issues we’re seeing from our post-Sept. 11 veterans is that they are returning with invisible wounds like PTSD,” Blair said. “But it’s not just that, a lot of our veterans are returning with depression, anxiety and substance abuse as well.”

Blair said at times veterans can be reluctant to seek help because there’s a stigma associated with mental health issues. Nearly 20 veterans a day die by suicide, she said.

“Fourteen out of those 20 veterans aren’t receiving any care from the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs].

Mental health issues is not a sign of weakness, it’s a normal response when experiencing trauma,” Blair said.

NAMI is doing all it can to help veterans by working with Congress and the VA hospital. Blair said NAMI also established a program initiative called NAMI Homefront. The program is a free, six-session educational program for families, caregivers and friends of military service members and vets with mental health conditions.

Blair said the program is offered in 29 states, including Georgia.  According to NAMI’s Education/Programs team, NAMI Georgia has offered the NAMI Homefront program in Flowery Branch, Decatur, Lawrenceville, Atlanta, Augusta, Vidalia and Statesboro.

The program also offers an online module in all 50 states.

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