Vet Kills Himself After VA Turns Him Away
March 15, 2007 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Vet Kills Himself After VA Turns Him Away Marine veteran Jonathan Schulze survived the war in Iraq but almost two years after he came home, it ended up killing him, reports The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. He had one of the toughest jobs in the war: taming the insurgent hotbed of Ramadi in 2004.
posted by Postroad (59 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Fuck this war, fuck this administration, and my heartfelt condolences to this poor man's survivors.
posted by stenseng at 1:23 PM on March 15, 2007

There is just no way to support our troops and also support this administration and their disastrous war.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:24 PM on March 15, 2007 [6 favorites]

Believe it or not, this is nothing new. I know it's great fun to point out the fact that the Bush administration is abandoning its veterans (and they are) but the VA has been providing shitty care to veterans for decades.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:31 PM on March 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by fandango_matt at 1:32 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by brundlefly at 1:37 PM on March 15, 2007

Its not the people in the VA per se, its a bloated buearacracy, lack of funds, regulatory bs, and a raft of other issues. Much in our government is fundamentally broken.
posted by sfts2 at 1:37 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by parmanparman at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by LordSludge at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2007 mean, vets come home from war all fucked in the head? AND the VA runs shitty hospitals??! Next you'll be telling me that water is wet!
posted by Roman Graves at 1:48 PM on March 15, 2007

er... I think it is simply war.
War means rape, means atrocities, means bad follow-up care, mental illness, lost limbs, lost minds, lost lives, lost money, opportunity, abuse, degradation and idiocy. In every war this is what happens, the myth of the good war is just that, a myth. Some wars are slightly less insane, but that is like saying someone is sociopathic vs psychopathic.
And it is even worse in Iraq, which I suspect is going to lose a whole generation of males. Can you imagine the sheer level of frustration and anger and the ongoing meat grind? I can't.

We are still dealing with the aftermath of WWI/II, how long will the effects of discarded Depleted Uranium, social disintegration political incompetence last in Iraq even if the fighting magical stopped tomorrow.

War. is. bad. Always.
I am sorry for Mr Schulze and his family, just as I am for everyone involved in this national insanity.
posted by edgeways at 1:49 PM on March 15, 2007

So how long before we get a dozen posts trashing the guy for taking the cowards way out? Seems to be the way these kinds of posts go here.
posted by empath at 1:52 PM on March 15, 2007

mr_crash_davis, you oversimplify the situation drastically.

My father worked for the VA for 30+ years, so I am not completely objective on the subject, but I can tell you that the VA has always been underfunded, and the hospitals have always had major infrastructure issues.

Since 2003, there has been a steady stream of grievously wounded soldiers flowing into the VA system, for the first time since the end of the Viet Nam war (there have been other conflicts in the intervening time, but nothing approaching this magnitude). This influx of wounded soldiers has stretched the VA beyond its breaking point. The medical and support staffs at the hospitals are committed professionals, but there's only so much they can do. We need more beds, more doctors, more nurses, and better facilities at all VA Medical Centers, and not just now—we need to take care of these soldiers for the rest of their lives in many cases, so we need a VA that is up to the task.

One of the particularly cruel ironies of this war is that there is still a sense among high-ranking military officers that a soldier isn't wounded unless he or she has a bullet wound or is missing a leg, etc. PTSD and other mental illnesses, and even closed head traumas (there are thousands of these cases nowadays) are a very low priority; these people have to go to great lengths to get care for their "invisible" injuries. It's a goddamn shame.

In short, the current administration is particularly culpable for the problems with the VA, because they have started a war that has led to the largest sustained influx of wounded soldiers in 30 years, without materially increasing the VA's funding.
posted by Mister_A at 1:52 PM on March 15, 2007 [5 favorites]

So when does the military, knowing that war is hell, set up a working social service apparatus to receive recently returned vets and help them before they wind up half dead from booze and dope and living on the streets?

Shit, even the most rundown, cash starved dump hole of a detox in Philly can't turn you away if you say you're going to hurt yourself.
posted by The Straightener at 1:53 PM on March 15, 2007

What a time to be alive.

posted by nola at 1:53 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by Smart Dalek at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2007

VA medical and counselling staff suffer from "compassion fatigue."
posted by peeedro at 2:00 PM on March 15, 2007

Yes, turning away a man who says he is suicidal is just horrible.
posted by Mister_A at 2:03 PM on March 15, 2007

Lending a bit of historical perspective; just over a quarter-century ago this sort of tragedy sparked a protest from Vietnam Veteran's.
“The veterans' protest began after the apparent suicide last month of James Hopkins, a 32-year-old former marine. Two months before his death, Mr. Hopkins drove a jeep through the plate- glass window of the hospital's lobby and fired several shots into a wall. He described the incident as a gesture to call attention to what he said was Veterans Administration neglect of a hearing problem that he had and of other ailments he attributed to service in Vietnam.”
Here's the NYT article.

This is not the first government to show disdain for our veteran's and unless we the people do something about the penchant for violent resolutions of 'problems' then we're going to be reading this same sort of story after every war we fight.
posted by DragonBoy at 2:08 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by buzzman at 2:08 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by taosbat at 2:15 PM on March 15, 2007

Funny you just posted the historical perspective comment. I was just wondering how war effected the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers and society and what they did to deal.

Damn you Hollywood, leave my thoughts alone!
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:17 PM on March 15, 2007

My fiance spent just seven months in Iraq in 2002. He still has nightmares and is unable to trust anyone around him. He's bitter and disillusioned and knowing that he has to fight for help makes me cry.

My father's worked at the Omaha VA for decades, so I know that's it's always been understaffed, underfunded, and under seige. That doesn't make it okay, and that doesn't make it right.

Fuck this.
posted by josingsinthehall at 2:33 PM on March 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Please consider the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service.
posted by phaedon at 2:39 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

You guys the VA does the best it can with essentially nothing. The VA is fighting multiple levels of contempt and neglect from just about every institution that is supposed to support it.

Fully funding the VA would be a tacit admission that our wars fuck people up - even the supposed strong patriotic "good guys." Nobody wants to hear about that. What the VA is for - if your a Republican - to hide those poor bastards away so we don't have to look at what our war DO.

Do you realize how long it took for our Government to recognize PTSD as a legitimate disorder? The lengths members of congress and Pentagon ass-kissers went to discredit vets that had it from WWII to Vietnam - label them cowards - was disgusting.

I encourage all of you who really care to go volunteer at a VA hospital and see for your self what they are up against. You will have to pass a security clearance and drug test (thanks GW!).
posted by tkchrist at 2:45 PM on March 15, 2007

On preview what Phaedon posted.
posted by tkchrist at 2:45 PM on March 15, 2007

Yeah, this really makes me long for socialized medicine in this country. Only not.

This sucks on so many levels.
posted by konolia at 3:05 PM on March 15, 2007

"this really makes me long for socialized medicine in this country."

Wow, using the tragic death of a soldier to insert the latest right-wing talking point designed to divert attention away from the problem. Good job, citizen!
posted by 2sheets at 3:15 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

konolia: What?
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:17 PM on March 15, 2007

Such a sad story. There are many more of these stories every day, and - seemingly daily - I know one more person who has been directly affected by homecoming wounded or finding out their loved ones are never coming home.

The longer we sit around "waitin' for the world to change" instead of changing it ourselves, the more of this we're going to read and the less satisfied we're going to be with that same world.

I guess I need to figure out what more I can do and how I can help the others who feel the same to get serious, get organised, and get out there.
posted by batmonkey at 3:33 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by amberglow at 3:35 PM on March 15, 2007

No, this is not a talking point. This is from a person who lives in a state where the ENTIRE mental health system is getting "reorganized" and in the process turning into a totally underfunded disaster. This is also from a person who lives in a town that still has homeless Vietnam vets wandering around.

This is from a person who HAS been suicidal in the past and who is so enraged by this story she can barely be coherent.
posted by konolia at 3:36 PM on March 15, 2007

konolia writes "who is so enraged by this story she can barely be coherent."

posted by chiababe at 3:42 PM on March 15, 2007

I'll just be another voice in support of the VA doing the best it can with what it has. My father has been a dentist at a VA hospital for almost 30 years now and I know that he and all of the dentists working with him are doing the best they can. When I was living with my parents, not a week would go by without hearing another story of how bad the conditions wer or how someone else was being let go due to budget cuts.

The lack of respect given to the men and women in the military once they come home disgusts me.
posted by hobgadling at 3:44 PM on March 15, 2007

Yeah, this really makes me long for socialized medicine in this country. Only not.

What on earth are you talking about? The VA is socialized medicine.

He didn't have a job with it's own healthcare system. Would you rather he simply not have any hope for treatment? Or that he would have to add the worries of indebting his parents for his care? Or go deep into debt?

This is a horrible situation that wouldn't have happened if the VA had the capacity it needed.
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on March 15, 2007

For future reference, VETS: If the VA turns you away SEEK HELP ELSEWHERE!

There are many resources and many people very willing to help a vet in need.

There is a weird cultural thing within the military that makes service members feel obliged to use only those "special" services which are their priveledge, whether it's commisary, medical, banking or insurance. But the bottom line is, you are on your own.

posted by snsranch at 3:54 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is horribly tragic. You'd think people would have realized something is horribly wrong in Iraq when the Army's top military ethics advisor blew his brains out last year.
posted by Sukiari at 3:54 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Both my parents have worked in the VA system for many years. My mom has worked as a nurse for decades. She has poured her heart and most of her adult life into caring for sick vets, even while she is nearly crippled by arthritis herself.

The current situation is indeed a horrible one. The funding necessary to provide adequate care for vets should be guaranteed. Sadly our government is being run by people who have no problem putting soldiers in harm's way but keep a tight grip on the purse strings when it comes to treating their injuries.
posted by mullingitover at 4:22 PM on March 15, 2007

Statement: "Support Our Troops"

Translation: "(You Had Better) Support Our Troops"

Reading between the lines: "(You Had Better) Support Our Troops (Because We Won't, and Haliburton Doesn't Have Lines for 'Suffering,' 'Compassion,' or 'Rehabilitation' in the Spreadsheet c:\warpigs\cheney_profits_war.xls)"

The disillusionment must be incredible. First, to pick up on the fact that you're probably there for all of the wrong reasons, then to realize that you're not doing anybody any good, then to be either emotionally and/or physically mangled and to find out that the military really is not going to take care of you for life.

And, if nothing else disproves the concept of collective unconscious, well, we'll have to bite the bullet and realize that there will always be a supply of fired-up eighteen year olds who willing to join up because they desperately want to believe whatever the lie of the day is. I think the percentage of soldiers in Iraq who believe that 9/11 was tied to Iraq has finally dipped under 80%, though. Just a shame that it didn't come in before they had the talk with the recruiters.
posted by adipocere at 4:25 PM on March 15, 2007 mean, vets come home from war all fucked in the head? AND the VA runs shitty hospitals??! Next you'll be telling me that water is wet!
posted by Roman Graves at 1:48 PM PST on March 15

How about cranking down the jaded Snark-o-meter and just recognize that this is something that SHOULD be in our faces until it is remedied?

Thanks, Postroad.

posted by figment of my conation at 4:46 PM on March 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

"My father worked for the VA for 30+ years, so I am not completely objective on the subject"

My grandfather's been treated at VA hospitals for 30+ years, so I'm not completely objective either.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:16 PM on March 15, 2007

I get my medical from the VA. Although I'm Viet Nam Era (72-75), I served in Berlin; hence, thanks to BushCo, I have a yearly means-test and Rx co-pays that go up every year. I don't have dental nor eye.

About a month after my son died, the VA offered me free bereavement counseling at a local Vet Center. This was a benefit deriving from Robert for certain immediate family members, it wasn't part of my VA. I'm the only one they told about it so I told my ex.

The 'local' Vet Center is in Santa Fe, which is about 70 miles one-way. They agreed with me that 140ish miles was a little much for either them or me to drive once a week. So, they set me up with counseling at the local community mental health center.

I was such a mess when that happened, I didn't even ask what the financial arrangement was. Recently, the mental health center informed me that my 'crisis' visits were used up and I now need to pay a co-pay of $5.00/visit.

I know that's cheap, certainly cheaper than driving to Santa Fe; and, I don't mean to bitch; but, it was supposed to be free.

When my counselor and I talked about it she said the VA ought to pay it. I just gave her the 'Vet' look and said they don't have the resources. We talked a little about the situation for Vets in Taos county, where more than 200 soldiers have spent at least one year in Iraq.
posted by taosbat at 6:23 PM on March 15, 2007

Yeah, this really makes me long for socialized medicine in this country. Only not.
What on earth are you talking about? The VA is socialized medicine.

Not to derail, I only meant if the VA was this totally screwed up why would we want to do this to the rest of us?

posted by konolia at 6:42 PM on March 15, 2007

I see taosbat already posted here, but she said something two days ago that seems to be equally appropriate for this thread.

I am beginning to think that the only thing that might have saved my son's life, the only thing that might save the lives of other soldiers in Robert's position, is mandatory counseling for everyone who returns from deployment to any combat zone: 1 hour/week, private session, everyone...privates to generals.
posted by taosbat at 10:49 AM CST on March 13

The VA needs a lot more funding. A lot more. This situation is only going to get worse unless these men and women can get the help they need.

[on post, this would have made more sense an hour ago when I originally typed it, I see that taosbat has subsequently followed up...]
posted by quin at 6:58 PM on March 15, 2007

quin, it's a comfort to know you've got my back.
posted by taosbat at 7:04 PM on March 15, 2007

posted by rougy at 9:24 PM on March 15, 2007

Let me first say this is horrible. And I feel for this guy, and his family, and anyone else who is in a similar situation.

But I really dislike these emotional, anecdotal appeals being used as anti-war arguments. There are a million good reasons to be against the war. But this kind of thing reminds me a little too much of:

"oh listen to this guy whose family got tortured by Saddam, we better invade Iraq"
"listen to these poor parents whose child got molested, we better start a witchhunt against anyone who even thinks about sex near a 17 year old"
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:39 PM on March 15, 2007

Fresh Air broadcast an interview this week with two reporters who wrote a series on the treatment of mentally unfit soldiers. Horrific and terribly sad situation.
posted by killy willy at 11:34 PM on March 15, 2007

taosbat, understand this, as long as you keep providing good ideas like that one, I will always have your back. Your concept is simple, effective, and totally removes the stigma that the military has attached to people needing emotional and psychological help after what they have seen and done. I know the military currently scorns people who request this help, and yours is a brilliant and simple solution to that problem.

If this was in place today, your son might have had the help he needed, and tomorrow my sister could have the same benefits that I suspect she might one day need.

It's an expensive and yet visionary idea that should be implement as soon as possible.
posted by quin at 11:59 PM on March 15, 2007

"Support Our Troops!" = Rightwing battle cry.
"Support Our Wounded Vets!" = Librul looney whine.

"Support our Troops!" != "Support Our Wounded Vets!"

Once they're wounded and discharged, they're no longer "Troops". They can't fight anymore, so who cares?

Logical conclusion: Don't enlist. If already in, don't leave, no matter what, until you're dead.

So, having broken the treasury, we 'repent' and elect libruls, who will care for the vets, repair the society, and eventually the economy. Then we discredit them for being "tax-and-sped Libruls", elect rightwing war-mongers. Rinse and repeat.

Is it possible that today, there is finally enough history and visibility of reality, that we can break this assinine cycle? Maybe the visibility is good enough, given the state of the news/entertainment business.
posted by Goofyy at 1:30 AM on March 16, 2007

oops. visibility is NOT good enough, obviously.

I used to use the VA back in the 70's. Not always the best care, for sure, but the system wasn't under heavy strain at the time.

Konolia: Don't assume that the VA represents the only viable form of "socialized" medicine. That's a knee-jerk reaction that isn't going to help.

Drug testing and security clearence, to go try to help some hospitalized veterans?!?!?! Apparently, these veterans give up their right to associate with whom they will? Who'd have thought that.
posted by Goofyy at 1:36 AM on March 16, 2007

posted by BeerGrin at 5:38 AM on March 16, 2007

I'd like to echo what tkchrist has said and just add that the purpose of the VA is not to actually help our veterans. It's to convince the voting public that our elected leaders (and by extension, ourselves) actually give a damn, when of course they don't. And of course neither do "we".

And konolia: yeah, let's privatize the VA. Now our vets can get good care (if they can afford it -- which almost none of them can), or if they can't, they can still get care but be in a constant state of bankrupcy and insolvency for the rest of their lives.

There are some areas where capitalism is incompatable with compassion -- even feigned compassion.
posted by Avenger at 9:10 AM on March 16, 2007

What phaedon sed.

Also - this is just one story that made the papers. One. And it’s a violent death. There’s nothing about the slow decline or the slow deaths. I’ve seen this happen to a lot of people You’re working with someone, maybe the get better, maybe not. One day they’re gone. And you don’t know what happened to them. What’s worse are the one’s who are gone, but are still there. It’s tough to explain. And that’s just the people that show up at the VA and other places for help in the first place.
What is really and truly troubling is - nearly all of them COULD be helped. I don’t know how many lives volunteers have turned around, but it’s quite a few. And yet - it’s not enough. So you have many vets - unknown how many, but a hell of a lot - suffering, but who could be treated and helped and go on to lead productive lives. Lives certainly that much more productive because of the wisdom they’ve gained and the compassion they’ve been shown and can emulate.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:31 AM on March 16, 2007

I'm terribly sorry for your loss, taosbat.
posted by jokeefe at 1:14 PM on March 16, 2007

Taosbat, I'm sorry, too, about your loss.

Seriously, I wonder what the people who want tax cuts and war at the same time have bothered to think this through at all. This isn't about my feelings about the war but rather the thought process people employ.

The quality of care at the VA has always been an issue because of funding. Wars bring long-term costs, and the VA is just one example of one of the bigger ones. When you're scraping soldiers up off the battlefield, people who just a few years ago would have died on the spot, the expense of their care is going to be enormous.

I have to say that of all the horror stories about Building 18 at Walter Reed, the one that bothered me the most was the guy with the head injury who was sent from the hospital to find his way across the large grounds, using only a photocopied map. Somehow that touches more than the leak ceiling in the bathroom or the mice. How did anyone let that happen? I feel myself getting angry just trying to picture how that guy (or guys) got by. I can't imagine how angry some of these guys must be.

My nephew is completing Black Hawk helicopter training in the spring, hoping to establish a career as a medical evacuation pilot. But we all know that Afghanistan or Iraq looms first and can only pray for his safety and that of everyone else, including the Iraqi people.
posted by etaoin at 1:41 PM on March 16, 2007

There's this program in Boston called Bedside Advocates--why can't there be something like that for injured vets?

...The volunteers with Bedside Advocates will not practice medicine. Instead, they aim to provide comfort and compassion while helping fragile and elderly patients navigate the increasingly complex medical system by accompanying them to the doctor's office, the hospital, and the nursing home. They hope to help patients get better care by empowering them to ask questions, follow their medication regimes, and get prompt attention to problems. ...
posted by amberglow at 3:50 PM on March 16, 2007

Thank you, jokeefe and etaoin. Robert's death has been a terrible shock.
posted by taosbat at 7:31 AM on March 17, 2007

The Army's new acting surgeon general said Tuesday she is concerned about long-term morale because the military lacks money to hire enough nurses and mental health specialists to treat thousands of troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"When the original plans were made, we did not take into consideration we could be in a long war," said Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock. She became surgeon general earlier this month after Kevin Kiley was forced to resign in a scandal over poor treatment of war-wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"We have not been able to do the hiring," Pollock told a House Armed Services subcommittee...
posted by taosbat at 4:18 PM on March 27, 2007

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