Good Samaritan working to improve mental health care after chance encounter with hitchhiker

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- A Park County man with no military ties says he is dedicated to improving mental health care for veterans.

“It’s opened my eyes. You think your life is bad and it’s really not bad,” Arthur Reece said.

Two weeks ago, Reece, who lives in South Park, was making his daily morning commute to Golden for work when he said his life changed.

“I was driving down the road and I saw a young man hitchhiking,” he said.

Reece said it was only 12 degrees at the time and the hitchhiker had on his military uniform but wasn’t wearing shoes.

“He tells me he’s a vet and you know he tells me how much he loves his country,” he said.

The man turned out to be 27-year-old Phillip Archambault, who recently moved to Park County from New Hampshire. He served as an advanced dental assistant in the U.S. Navy.

“He wanted to get to an RTD bus route,” Reece said.

Reece said Archambault borrowed his cellphone to call his parents on the ride toward Denver. But when he dropped him off at the bus station, it was only the beginning of their journey together.

Hours after they parted ways, Reece said he received a call from Archambault’s parents informing him that their son had been arrested.

“He ended up getting picked up by Wheat Ridge police and they took him to West Pines [Behavioral Health Clinic]. At some point they tried to give him a shot,” Reece said.

According to the Wheat Ridge Police Department, Archambault was booked into Jefferson County jail on assault charges for punching the nurse.

Since he has been in jail, Reece has taken it upon himself to take care of the veteran’s dog, Cooper. And on Wednesday, the pair visited Archambault in jail.

“I came to visit Phillip because he’s got nobody in Colorado,” Reece said.

Archambault’s father, who lives in New Hampshire, said his son developed post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia while he served in the military.

“At some point something happened and he tried to commit suicide. [The Navy] took him to a clinic and when he came out his parents said they didn’t even know who he was anymore,” Reece said.

The man’s parents believe he has never received proper mental health treatment for his diseases.

They say psychiatric wards release him too early and don’t provide proper aftercare or guardianship once he is released.

They do not blame Veterans Affairs for the shortfalls, but mental health care in general.

“He needs long-term care,” Reece said. “Sending him down to the VA and giving him a shot of risperidone every month and sending him back on the street is not going to fix this kid.”

Over the past two weeks, Reece has spent hours calling the local VA, the national VA hotline and Colorado lawmakers to try to improve mental health services for veterans.

“Give him some drugs, send him on his way. It’s a cheap fix and then we don’t have to deal with him and it seems to be the way the VA is, as sad as it is,” Reece said.