A sick and elderly army veteran and grandfather of 16 got to a point of such desperation after being turned away by a Veterans Affairs hospital that he robbed a Missouri bank so that he would be sent to prison — and receive health care.

Joseph Cyrus, 77, put on a mask, grabbed a toy gun, and robbed a bank on October 16. Witnesses said that he hobbled, seemingly in pain as he left.

“I wanted to be caught, your honor,” Cyrus said from his wheelchair in court last month. “I wanted to get some help from the United States government.”

Following the robbery, Cyrus traveled and visited relatives to explain why he did what he did, turning himself in five days later.

The morning of the crime, Cyrus said that he woke up in his trailer covered in cockroaches and couldn’t take any more. His neighbors all describe him as a kind and friendly person who would not hurt a fly.

“I turned around and looked in the mirror, into a mirror that I had in my apartment, and I said, ‘Why am I doing this?'” Cyrus said, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

“So I grabbed that mask (and) turned the license plate upside down.”

After Cyrus pleaded guilty the judge urged him to get past his pride and accept help from his family.

“I hope you’ll find it somehow in your heart to let them (your family) — let them help you,” Judge David Rush told Cyrus in the courtroom. “I can tell you’re a strong and a proud man. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except if that gets in the way of letting people who love and care for you demonstrate that.”

The judge also showed some compassion for the man’s situation, stating that he hopes the veteran will not die behind bars.

“You can have an influence on those grandchildren and a positive influence,” Rush said in court. “You may have to swallow some of your pride, you know, as far as what you’ve done here and brought you to this point. But don’t let that define you. You can still — you can still make a difference in their lives.”

Cyrus is currently in jail awaiting his sentencing, facing up to 10 years for the robbery. This tragic case shines a bright spotlight on the the deep endemic problems of the American healthcare system.


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