Troubled Teens: A father's fight to change the system

Harahan, La. - Mathew and Michael Milam were best friends and brothers.

Pat Milam, their father, loved his boys but there was no indication of the heartaches that would eventually follow.

Pat lost his youngest son, Michael in 2007 to a heroin overdose.

Meanwhile, Matthew started abusing drugs and alcohol and eventually displayed signs of a severe mental illness.

"I came home one day and he was frantic. He said the FBI had been here all day. I said, what's going on Matthew? He said, I've discovered the black hole and I have all the information in the world," says Pat.

Matthew had been seeing a psychiatrist and had also been hospitalized in a mental facility.

While Pat and his wife were heavily involved in his treatments, federal laws became a roadblock.

"Shortly after he turned 18, the meetings and conversations were cut off dramatically. I understand what HIPAA laws mean, but I also thought I was smart enough to get my message to the doctors," says Pat.

HIPAA laws in Louisiana prohibit a physician from sharing the medical records of a patient 18 years or older without the patients permission.

Pat says he continued to send information to Matthew's doctors, but because of the HIPAA law, he was essentially cut off from what was going on with his son.

Each time Matthew would go in the hospital, he'd be released after 7 to 10 days.

"You cannot let these people out. They cannot be treated in a week," says Pat.

After multiple suicide attempts and repeated efforts to get Matthew long term care, Pat's worst fear came true.

Matthew had used propane tanks, gasoline, fireworks and a shot gun shell to make a homemade device that exploded and killed him instantly.

"They brought Matthew out on a stretcher and I said goodbye to him and they took him away," says Pat.

Pat lost the battle to save his second son in October of 2011. His fight, though, to change a system that he says is set up for failure rages on.

Pat testified before Congress during a hearing on violent and severe mental illness in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.

He told Matt's story to raise awareness and hopefully bring about change.

"Our system is broken. It's only because we're getting so much publicity that people are now realizing that we have a problem," says Pat.

"What is happening now with inpatient psychiatric care is basically stabilization. The days of long term inpatient treatment are almost gone," says Cecile Tebo.

Tebo works with the mentally ill and is a local healthcare advocate.

She says in many cases, a short term stay in a mental facility isn't enough.

"I see this with families all the time where their loved one is discharged back into the home and they are still psychotic," says Tebo.

Getting long term treatment in a mental facility requires more than just being severely ill. Tebo says a crime must be committed.

"For the acutely mentally ill patients who have demanded care and the families who have worked so hard to get them long term care and the only way it happened was for them to commit a crime, I think is inhumane," says Tebo.

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, 70 percent of patients who attempted suicide did so within a week of being discharged.

In Matthew's case, HIPAA laws also stood in the way of his family's involvement.

"Our HIPAA laws make it impossible for family members to be part of that journey. Despite the fact that they are actually psychotic, they still have the right and ability to say, I don't want my family involved," says Tebo.

Tebo says family support is a key component to wellness.

"It's a combination of residential care, usually with a parent, and inpatient and outpatient care that works in harmony together. It's like a three legged stool. If you take one leg out, the rest will crumble," says Tebo.

Since Matthew's death, Pat Milam has begun a new journey. His goal is to change the mental health care system.

"I can't not do it. It's like asking me not to breathe air," says Pat.

"He is a champion and a cheerleader for the cause and I'm so sorry that he had to lose his two boys, but he's fierce. He has great determination and I think he will make waves and hopefully changes within the system,' says Tebo.