On Tuesday morning the Georgia State Patrol reported that a man a walked towards the Georgia States Capital building and set himself on fire. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) identified the man as 58-year-old John Michael Watts, an Air Force veteran with no current address.
In a press release, Capt. Mark Perry of the Georgia State Patrol stated that at approximately 10:45 a.m. the man parked his passenger vehicle and began to walk towards the Georgia Capital building. Perry further stated that the man was strapped with some homemade incendiary devices, some firecrackers and that he had doused himself with flammable liquid. After approaching the Capital building, he set himself on fire.
Perry also said that an off duty, Georgia State Patrol trooper was passing by when he saw the man on fire. The off duty trooper rushed toward the man with a fire extinguisher. The trooper was able to extinguish the flames quickly.
The man was taken in critical condition to Grady Memorial Hospital with burns on 85 to 90 percent of his body. He was later identified as 58-year-old, John Michael Watts.
Perry said that after the fire was extinguished, the man said he was disgruntled with the V.A. system and was seeking attention for that.
After the man was taken to the hospital parts of the Capital were shut down. Authorities stated that the bomb squad had been called to check the surrounding area and specifically the man’s vehicle. No other explosives were found, and no other injuries were reported.
The incident happened during a news conference about a new state law on hands-free driving. Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, was speaking at the time of the incident happened.
Natalie later stated that as she was speaking, she heard loud bangs which sounded like fireworks. As fireworks continued, the Georgia State Patrol officers behind her started to run towards the explosions. Natalie further stated that the responding officers were very calm. This helped her stay calm during this dangerous situation.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is a sprawling agency that includes more than 1,700 clinics and hospitals and has been plagued by scandal.
This latest incident is nothing new for the Department of Veteran Affairs. In March 2016, a 51-year-old veteran died after setting himself on fire outside of a Veterans Affairs clinic in northern New Jersey. An investigation found that the staff at the clinic repeatedly failed to ensure that he had received adequate mental health care.
There have also been many allegations of veterans that have died in the care of the VA and many other have died because of the lack of medical care.
Michael Owens, a Marine Corps veteran from Mableton, Ga., and state leader with the Truman National Security Project, said many veterans say the VA is not responsive to their needs. Owens further stated that hearing and talking to veterans that are frustrated and disgruntled with the VA is something that he sees a lot of. Many veterans are tired and feel that the VA keeps pushing them away. Many don’t know or don’t understand how the VA helps veterans.