PART ONE: Mental health patients having trouble without TennCare

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – Thousands of Tennesseans suffer from mental illness, and some of them have managed to fall between the cracks in recent years after being removed from TennCare.

VolunteerTV News recently caught up with one such East Tennessee for the first part of our series “The Forgotten.”

Matthew Trippe drives mental health patients back and forth to the Friendship House, where they can socialize with others. Trippe can sympathize with his passengers, because he had a mental breakdown a few years ago.

"I was doing irrational things,” he said. “I would go check my mailbox 9 times a day, even after the mail was delivered. I mean no rhyme or reason. I'd talk to whomever who wasn't there."

Trippe has lost his TennCare coverage within the last few years, and now fears he won’t be able to live much longer without it.

“Five years I've been without TennCare and it's been a living hell,” he said. “Financially speaking, it's been a living hell and mentally stressfully.”

Trippe suffers from depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea. He admitted he can't afford all the doctor visits or prescriptions he needs.

"I feel like I'm a walking time bomb,” he said. “I don't know how much longer I'm going to be around if I'm not on those medications."

TennCare dropped thousands of mental health patients in 2005 and then more were kicked off as part of the “Daniels Class.”

"It's a pretty serious situation because if you're mentally ill and you've lost your TennCare coverage you've not only lost doctor access, you've also lost that support person,” said Michael Waltke, director of adult mental health and recovery services at the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

Waltke told Volunteer TV News it is a misnomer that when you cut money from TennCare you're saving money in the long run.

"Those are at a lot higher risk of incarceration,” he said. “We see a lot of homelessness people turning to substance abuse because they're trying to self medicate and higher incidents of suicide."

Trippe says he won't turn to violence, but he doesn't know what he's going to do when his medication runs out. Right now it's just a waiting game.

If you've lost your TennCare there is help out there. The Behavioral Health Safety Net provides core behavioral health services for Tennesseans with serious mental illness who are uninsured and at or below the federal poverty line, but are not eligible for TennCare.

Just contact your local physician or call TennCare at 1-800-878-3192.

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