HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Important results on a story we've been pursuing for months. In February, WHNT News 19 covered the story of Ron Buis, a Vietnam veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has spent the last 22 months in jail with no treatment for his condition. We promised then we would not rest until Buis got the help he needed. And now we can report we've made good on that promise.
Ron Buis may have survived the Vietnam War but there was never a ceasefire declared with the voices in his head. His PTSD and related symptoms only got worse over the years until 2013 and he began shooting at them, and at the faces that haunted him still. His mobile home depicts the war that Buis was still fighting, some of the bullets landing in his neighbor's mobile home. As a result, in September of 2013, Buis was arrested on charges of shooting into an occupied dwelling. He has sat in jail, without treatment, for 22 months.
"He's also been emotionally traumatized and mentally traumatized by the ravages of war, the bombings, the friends and companions that's he's lost as a result of being in the war," Says Buis' attorney, John Taylor.
But things are finally happening now for Buis. as a result of our February story and the abiding concern for veteran's issues in offices throughout the courthouse. Madison County Circuit Court Judge Ruth Ann Hall ordered a hearing Friday morning to consider the case. The plan now is to move the case into Veterans Court and begin immediate efforts to get him out of jail and into treatment.
"Ron has several people in the DA's office who, on their own, are taking their time to help him in his unique situation, and it's been an extraordinary experience for me, very emotional actually, to see people come out to try to help this man," Taylor says.
It means Buis will finally get the help he needs. It means he could be just days away from his first taste of freedom in almost two years. It's not a get out of jail free card. There would likely be mandatory treatment and progress reports to the court. His sentence would likely be suspended pending treatment, so long as he follows treatment and continues to improve.
"There was a unique situation here for somebody that needed help. Without you, it wouldn't have happened and I appreciate you," Taylor told WHNT News 19's Al Whitaker following Friday's hearing.
We should point out there were several setbacks along the way to winning freedom for Buis. In February, WHNT News 19 learned the original judge's order for a mental health evaluation had been misplaced. We delivered it to the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and an evaluation for Buis was scheduled. However, Buis refused to cooperate with doctors insisting he was no longer suffering from PTSD.
We then spoke with a psychiatrist who explained while Buis was incarcerated, he was likely isolated from the triggers that would manifest the symptoms leading him to believe he was in fact getting better while in actuality the disorder was simply lying dormant. Buis, in denial of the overwhelming physical and eyewitness evidence against him insisted through the process he preferred his case to go trial, so he was returned to the Madison County Jail without bond. In refusing to allow court officers access to his medical records from the Veteran's Administration, Buis continued to receive no treatment for his PTSD and associated issues. The VA does not provide treatment to jail inmates.
In court Friday, Buis was lucid and aware. He was able to correctly answer questions from Judge Hall, and acknowledged for the first time he needed help. Judge Hall says she wants a conference next week with everyone involved in the case. She told the court while she cannot let him out of jail without strict treatment guidelines and knowing he poses no threat to himself or others, she vows his case will not fall through the cracks. As we reported in February, WHNT News 19 believes this is the best possible course of action for him.
On the level below Judge Hall's courtroom in the Madison County Courthouse you'll find the small display bearing the names of local servicemen and women who have earned the Purple Heart. It is there you'll find the name of Ronald W. Buis. He earned two of them. But his war may finally be coming to an end and maybe now the old soldier could soon be headed home.