Cars were Greg Holeman’s passion.
Fixing them, talking about them, tinkering with them, it all brought the Columbus man happiness.
He was proud that he’d served his country, loved his bull terrier, Bruce, and could spend hours watching movies or listening to old music.
His sister, Lisa Nagengast, remembers her brother as never being quick to judge and always being kind to people.
Those memories, though, are hard for the Florida woman to think about right now in the wake of her brother’s recent suicide. Sometime between Monday evening on Feb. 25 and Thursday, Feb. 28, the U.S. Army veteran fatally shot himself while sitting inside of his pickup truck outside of Columbus Community Hospital.
“They aren’t exactly sure when he passed. He pulled into the hospital parking lot at 8:32 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, and his truck never moved again until they found him on Thursday (Feb. 28),” Nagengast said she was told. “His death certificate has time of death as undetermined, but the coroner signed paperwork on Feb. 28 so that is what we are using as the day of his passing.”
If the name Greg Holeman sounds familiar, it probably should. In October 2018, the 48-year-old man was rushed to the emergency room by a Jimmy John's employee as a result of a misdial from Nagengast, as previously reported by The Telegram. Holeman had recently underwent spinal fusion surgery and was having complications, which he relayed to his sister.
In a rush, Nagengast attempted to contact emergency help from Tampa, Florida, and somehow, ended up dialing Jimmy John's. An employee was able to safely deliver Holeman to the ER at CCH.
In the days following, the story made national headlines when Jimmy John's CEO Jimmy John Liautaud flew into Nebraska and arrived in Columbus to personally present the driver with a new vehicle.
With her brother ultimately becoming another veteran suicide tally in a military statistical box, Nagengast said it’s important for people to realize how difficult it can be for service members – active and past – to receive the care they need.
On a note left inside of his wallet prior to his death, Holeman implored for somebody to take care of Bruce – the dog is now with Nagengast in Florida. After that, his sister said he called out Veterans Affairs and their “BS.”
Nagengast said she’s seen firsthand the struggle it can be navigating through the property VA channels.
“The VA is an antiquated system that is using pen and paper to file claims and information, they haven’t kept up with the current state of technology,” she said. “You have to fill everything out and file all these different pieces of paper and then it has to go through X number of departments. And if you don’t fill the right form it doesn’t go to the right place – it’s just an insane paperwork quagmire.”
Holeman, an Army mechanic who was active duty from 1991-1995, has been operating through Veterans Affairs for several years after injuring his back through the wear and tear associated with working on military tanks and huge, diesel Humvees.
“When you are working on vehicles over time your back gets messed up,” she said. “You’re in all kinds of crazy positions moving things around, it’s just hard on the human body.”
After stepping away from active duty, Nagengast said that her brother had his struggles. He battled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and drank too much. In 2009, he entered a treatment facility in Hastings to dry out. Since, he’d been living in Columbus for about 10 years.
While in Columbus, his back troubles continued while he also dealt with congestive heart failure. Leading up to his passing, Holeman had been seeing a psychologist and also completing regular physical therapy locally.
Even after his October 2018 surgery, his back still wasn’t right, which ultimately led to another surgery in December 2018. Completing the necessary steps to receive VA treatment was trying for the deceased.
“He had to appeal to the VA to get coverage because it (his back) had just gotten worse over time, and it was just this huge fight he had to go through to get them to help him even though it was all documented in his medical records,” Nagengast said.
VA public relations spokesperson Kevin Hynes released a statement in the wake of Holeman’s passing. Due to privacy issues, he said he couldn’t further discuss the situation.
“Our deepest condolences go out to Mr. Holeman’s family for their loss,” Hynes said. “Suicide prevention remains VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many. That’s why VA is implementing a wide range of prevention activities to address many different risk factors.
“We are working alongside dozens of partners, including the Department of Defense, to deploy suicide prevention programming that supports all current and former service members – even those who do not come to VA for care …”
Nagengast said she was knew her brother had problems, but noted she wasn’t aware of him ever attempting suicide. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, which she said local investigators are looking into.
While cleaning out her brother’s apartment, she said she found a plate of food in his microwave. After cracking his phone code, it was determined that on the evening of Monday, Feb. 25, Holeman made two calls – one 17 seconds and the second a little more than a minute.
Then he – his sister believes – rapidly left and drove to the hospital. Therein lies her biggest question: What happened?
“That’s the piece that is missing and we are trying to figure it out,” she said. “I believe that there is a key piece of information with that phone call that may shed some light on what triggered him to just say, ‘I’m done.’”
Now back at her home in Florida, Nagengast may be able to start processing a little more fully what happened. She’s certainly no stranger to tragedy.
Her father passed away in 2002, followed by her mother in 2005 and sister Deborah Ann in 2006 from a drug overdose.
So after receiving that 10 a.m. call on Thursday, Feb. 28, her heart broke all over again. While she noted she certainly has some frustrations with the VA, she emphasized that she wants people in the community to be aware of how many people are out there hurting. She also wants them to know that while the pain they feel is real, the pain suicide causes is equally as tragic.
This summer, a proper funeral service will be held for Holeman at a cemetery in Burleson, Texas, right where his and her parents are laid to rest, Nagengast said.
She said she hopes those dealing with despair and suicidal thoughts seek help. Nagengast said she doesn’t want other sisters feeling the way she does this March.
“Personally, I just want to say to anyone who is having thoughts of suicide and thinking no one cares, there are one, or two, or three, or five or 12 people who are going to be absolutely devastated.
“Please pick up the phone and call and talk to someone. And even though it feels like you just can’t get through the pain, just do it. Pick up that phone and make the call.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.