Air Force veteran sought housing help before lighting himself on fire

Kaylah Jackson
June 27, 2018 - 1:28 pm

Photo courtesy of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation


Before Air Force veteran, John Michael Watts lit himself on fire near the Georgia State Capitol, he was looking for help with his housing situation.

A day prior, 58-year-old Watts visited the Veterans Empowerment Organization (VEO) seeking resources for permanent living from Services for Veterans and Families (SSVF), a program within Veteran Affairs.

SSVF provides a wide array of resources for veterans and their families but sometimes it can take four to eight weeks before someone can secure permanent housing.

Tyler Bowser, Community Ambassador and Development Officer for VEO said Watts visited the organizations’ offices around 2 or 2:30 pm and was approached in the lobby of the executive director who noticed him and asked if wanted lunch or water.

It's not clear if he currently had a place to stay or was in transitional housing but Bowser said he is unaware if the Air Force veteran was seeking any help other than the scheduled appointment. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, he has no current address.

"He didn’t look like somebody that was homeless, he looked well-put together, clean shaven, sober, looked good, but you could definitely tell through his body mannerisms, he looked like he was under duress," said Bowser.

Around 10:45 a.m. the next morning, Watts approached the west entrance of the Capitol after exiting his vehicle wearing a vest lined with fireworks and flammable devices. He then then covered himself with a flammable liquid and lit the fireworks. A Georgia State Patrol trooper immediately extinguished the flames.

Watts was apparently disgruntled with the VA and trying to bring attention to his concerns. He was transported to Grady Hospital in Atlanta and according to Georgia State Patrol while he was alert and speaking at the scene, he is said to be  "in serious conditon."

A VA spokesperson said the department is ensuring he receives the VA care that he needs.  

“Our hearts are broken," said Bowser. "There needs to be unconditional support for underserved veterans, every veteran deserves food and a roof over their head.”

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