Told to wait, a Marine dies: VA care in spotlight after Iraq war veteran’s suicide
By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff | February 11, 2007
STEWART, Minn. — It took two years of hell to convince him, but finally Jonathan Schulze was ready.
On the morning of Jan. 11, Jonathan, an Iraq war veteran with two Purple Hearts, neatly packed his US Marine Corps duffel bag with his sharply creased clothes, a framed photo of his new baby girl, and a leather-bound Bible and headed out from the family farm for a 75-mile drive to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Family and friends had convinced him at last that the devastating mental wounds he brought home from war, wounds that triggered severe depression, violent outbursts, and eventually an uncontrollable desire to kill himself, could not be drowned in alcohol or treated with the array of antianxiety drugs he’d been prescribed.
And so, with his father and stepmother at his side, he confessed to an intake counselor that he was suicidal. He wanted to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
But, instead, he was told that the clinician who prescreened cases like his was unavailable. Go home and wait for a phone call tomorrow, the counselor said, as Marianne Schulze, his stepmother, describes it.
When a clinical social worker called the next day, Jonathan, 25, told again of his suicidal thoughts and other symptoms. And then, with his stepmother listening in, he learned that he was 26th on the waiting list for one of the 12 beds in the center’s ward for post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers.
Four days later, on Jan. 16, he wrapped a household extension cord around his neck, tied it to a beam in the basement, and hanged himself.
In life, Jonathan Schulze didn’t get nearly what he needed. But in death, this tough and troubled Marine may help get something critical done.
The apparent failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer him timely and necessary care has electrified the debate on the blogs and websites that connect an increasingly networked and angry veterans community. It has triggered an internal investigation by the VA into how a serviceman with such obvious symptoms faced a wait for hospital care.
And it is being cited by veterans’ advocates and their allies in Congress as a searing symbol of a system that they say is vastly unprepared and under funded to handle the onslaught of 1.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are returning home, an estimated one in five of them with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. One in three Iraq war veterans is seeking mental health services, according to a report by an Army panel of experts last year.
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