‘Come back in two weeks’: suicidal veteran turned away by VA

Betty BeanFountain City

Sorin Stanescu served as a combat medic in Afghanistan. He was a registered nurse, the devoted father of a young daughter and an immigrant who wanted to give back to his country. He was funny and smart and was a standout baseball and football player at Central High School in the early 2000s, where a host of lifelong friends are stunned to hear that he killed himself Tuesday after seeking help at a VA clinic and being told to come back in two weeks.

Ty Nance got a phone call from Sorin’s mother, Aurelia, on Tuesday morning. She told him she and Sorin were in the parking lot at Graning Paint on Magnolia Avenue, and that Sorin was in trouble. He’d gotten increasingly agitated over the past few days and they’d been on their way to a West Knoxville VA clinic to ask for help when he started driving erratically and ended up at the paint store.

Sorin Stanescu

Ty and Sorin had been close since Gresham Middle School and were teammates on some notable Central High School football teams in the early 2000s. Sorin was a Romanian immigrant who grew up playing soccer and was a linebacker/all-purpose kicker (punts, field goals, kickoffs). Ty, a center, was his long snapper and forever friend.

“He was having an episode and wasn’t himself,” Nance said. “After about an hour and a half I was able to get him in the truck with me and we drove to the VA outpatient clinic on Ray Mears Boulevard. He went to the mental health part of the building, and I went back there with him to make sure he wasn’t going to take off. He asked me to stay with him. When the nurse came out, he asked if I was allowed to go back there with him, and I did.”

When asked if he was on medication, Nance said Stanescu told her that he was on a mood suppressant to help him sleep. He said he’d only slept about three hours in the last four days. He also told her he’d been taking a steroid for a problem with his neck. Then she asked if he was suicidal.

“He said no, but I have been in the past,” Nance said.

“And with that, she informed him that she couldn’t do anything else for him because he hadn’t seen doctor since January 30, 2020. She sent us out the door with a doctor’s appointment in two weeks.”

Nance was frustrated and believes there were enough red flags in Sorin’s medical records to alert the VA that something was bad wrong – he’d been in a VA hospital for four days last November and had been treated for mental health issues on two occasions prior to that.

“His mom was outside waiting, and I expressed the way I felt about it as we were walking out. He could tell I was really agitated.”

Sorin and his mother lived in a condo near East Towne. His father died some years ago and his sister, Adi, is living in Utah. On the surface, Sorin seemed to be doing OK.

“He was about to buy a house out by me in South Knoxville,” Nance said. “He’d been at my house every weekend and had been going to church. He had a plan to stay in Knoxville five years, then turn the house over to his daughter when she turns 18 and move to Utah to be near his sister.”

Sorin had calmed down by the time they left the clinic, and Ty took him and his mother back to their car.

“After that, I came home and was getting ready to fix a sandwich when she called me back and asked me to come and help her – ‘He’s acting like that again.’”

So, Nance headed back to the condo.

“By the time I got to the East Towne exit, she called me back and said he’d killed himself. At first I thought she said, ‘He’s going to kill himself,’ and I was rushing there to try and talk him out of it. I’d already called 911. We were on their mobile crisis line. It was a fiasco. The first lady was super rude. The second lady was super sweet and trying to be helpful, but she was trying to give me directions to the emergency room. Turned out it was in Johnson city – 86 miles away.

“When she pulled up his records, she had the whole screen showing he had run his car off the road in November 2020. A few years before that he had driven to Georgia and didn’t know where he was. He got tasered and put in a psych ward and was there for 10 days. They knew he had manic depression, PTSD and they knew he was suicidal. They knew he was on steroids. To turn him away and give him a doctor’s appointment in two weeks – the VA really dropped the ball on this one. It was so chaotic. I couldn’t understand where they wanted me to take him. I don’t want to see this happen to anybody else. I just feel that the field he was in let him down,” Nance said.

Funeral: The family will receive friends from 12-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at Mynatt Funeral Home in Fountain City. The service will begin at 1:30 with burial at Greenwood Cemetery to follow.

Personal note: I met Sorin and Ty and their teammates when they were juniors at Central and I was assigned to cover that school’s news for the Shopper. They were easy to like, as was that whole 2000 Bobcat football team, and I’ll never forget them. They went to the state finals, and one of my most enduring memories of that season is watching the film “Remember the Titans” with them before the game. The Bobcat boys identified with the Titans because they were ethnically diverse with teammates from every imaginable kind of background. They had some hard times, but by the end of the season, they were a band of brothers who had learned to respect their differences and work together. They are hurting now, and they’re waiting for answers as they come together to mourn their brother.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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