Apr. 29, More Suicide News: Seven Veterans Under VA Care in Washington Commit Suicide

KXLY.com (Spokane, Washington)

Iraq War veteran Timothy Juneman went to the VA for help, was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was receiving help. This last fall Juneman started attending Washington State University but within months, he learned he would be sent back into active service when his National Guard unit was alerted for mobilization for a combat tour in Iraq. 

April 28, 2008, Spokane, Washington — They served their country honorably but after risking their life in combat abroad, coping with coming home was too much. In the last three months seven servicemen being treated by Spokane’s VA Hospital have committed suicide.

Of the seven suicides since January 1st, two had served in the National Guard, one was in the Navy, one from the Army Reserves and one was a Marine. Four of the seven had served in combat operations in Iraq.

 For some veterans, the trauma of war never goes away. One of them was 25-year-old Timothy Juneman, whose life ended in a dark, lonely place. His mother, Jacqueline Hergert, is demanding answers as to what happened.

“In the 20 days he was dead, before he was found, he was on suicide watch and no one checked on him,” Hergert said.

“What he really needed was for the VA to be an advocate for him and that didn’t happen.”

The growing number of suicides among military veterans is an issue that continues to gain national attention as hundreds of veterans take their lives every year. According to Jacqueline Hergert, her son’s problems began in 2005 when her son, Specialist Timothy Juneman, returned home after a year-long combat tour in Iraq where he served with 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), which was based out of Ft. Lewis.

Before Iraq, Juneman was known as a lover of the outdoors. He achieved Eagle Scout by the time he was 16 and after graduating from high school and a year of community college he enlisted in the Army in 2002. His first overseas tour was in South Korea. His second tour of duty was in Iraq and he came home a changed man.

“He went into a dark, deep depression,” she said. “I think he was doing a lot of self-medicating.  Maybe drinking a little, but very depressed.”

“After returning home from his tour of duty in Iraq, Tim was given the following choice — either commit to a two-year enlistment in the Washington National Guard and receive a stability from deployment for that amount of time or be stop-lossed and face certain redeployment within a year,” Hergert wrote in a letter to Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs committee. “Tim chose to enlist in the Washington National Guard unit and was assigned to Spokane, Wa(shington).”

Juneman went to the VA for help, was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was receiving help. This last fall Juneman started attending Washington State University but within months, he learned he would be sent back into active service when his National Guard unit was alerted for mobilization for a combat tour in Iraq.

 For a man battling paranoia and depression, it was too much.

“Mom, I don’t think I can go back to Iraq,” Jacqueline Hergert recalls her son’s words.

Last month, Juneman was found hanging in his Pullman apartment.

“My son hanged himself in his apartment on March 5, 2008. He was not discovered for 20 days, and then only because he didn’t pay his rent for the month,” Hergert continued in her letter to Sen. Murray. “He missed numerous scheduled medical appointments at the VA hospital. He missed his weekend duty with the National Guard unit. Yet, no one came to check on him, not even the doctors or counselors who were seeing him for his injuries and trauma.”

Juneman survived Iraq only to become an unfortunately often overlooked statistic: He is one of four veterans, seven in all, that were being treated by the Spokane VA Hospital that committed suicide in the last three months.

“It’s been cause for a lot of soul-searching here,” Gregory Winter, M.D., Chief of Mental Health at the Spokane VA Hospital said.

The deaths come despite last year’s introduction of a suicide prevention program that provided better outreach, more education and more care and a suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-TALK.

“We’re very, very concerned about this group in particular. We’re concerned about all of our veterans, but this is a risky group,” Dr. Winter said, referring to veterans who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Specialist Timothy Juneman was in that group and now it’s his mother doing the coping.

“I have to live with the knowledge that he died alone and in despair and feeling without hope,” Hergert said.

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