Paul Sullivan, a spokesman for Veterans for Common Sense, said studies show more than 5,000 veteran suicides a year and a tidal wave of returning war veterans needing mental health treatment. “What we’re trying to do is stop the VA from turning away suicidal veterans,” he said. “We think the situation has reached a crisis stage.”
The suicide of Jonathan Schulze is cited in the class-action suit filed by two national veterans groups.
February 22, 2008 – Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota — A class-action lawsuit filed by two national veterans organizations accusing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of neglecting psychological fallout from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cites the suicide of Minnesota Marine veteran Jonathan Schulze.
Schulze is one of several deceased veterans named in the suit, which a judge last month allowed to proceed and is headed for a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in March. Schulze, 25, committed suicide in January 2007 in New Prague, Minn., five days after he allegedly was turned away from the VA hospital in St. Cloud when seeking psychiatric help.
He had fought in Iraq. Medical records showed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
His father, Jim Schulze of the Stewart, Minn., area, said Friday that attorneys for Veterans for Common Sense and a second group, Veterans United for Truth, asked his wife, Marianne, to file a declaration in support of the case.
Marianne Schulze, Jonathan’s stepmother, reviewed her first-person observations of Jonathan’s encounters with the VA, his psychological struggles and his death.
“For some reason, he was denied the emergency care that might have saved his life,” she wrote in the four-page declaration.
VA officials last year denied that Schulze was turned away from the St. Cloud hospital. An independent investigation by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General said that family allegations were inconclusive because the hospital had no record of the exchange.
Attempts to contact U.S. Department of Justice attorneys defending the VA against the class-action suit were unsuccessful. However, court records show that the VA has argued that it already has started several new programs to address suicide prevention and that the suit should be dismissed because the court and veterans groups shouldn’t be intervening in VA policies.
The class-action suit, filed in July, is the first of its kind and represents from 600,000 to 1.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have been or will be subject to delays, confusion and corruption at VA hospitals, said Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney for Morrison and Foerster, the California firm representing the veterans.
“We’re dealing with an agency that’s unfortunately in the Dark Ages,” said Erspamer, a Minnesota native and a graduate of Hamline University Law School.
Erspamer and attorney Heather Moser said a court order precluded them from identifying individual family members to protect them from retribution from the VA.
But Jim Schulze, an Army veteran, said he’s not intimidated by going public. “What are they going to do, send me to Vietnam? Hell, I’ve been there three times already,” he said. “They didn’t take care of Jon’s needs, and they didn’t take care of my needs.”
Paul Sullivan, a spokesman for Veterans for Common Sense, said studies show more than 5,000 veteran suicides a year and a tidal wave of returning war veterans needing mental health treatment.
“What we’re trying to do is stop the VA from turning away suicidal veterans,” he said. “We think the situation has reached a crisis stage.”
The class-action suit asks the court to force the VA to conform to federal laws and the U.S. Constitution by dealing with veterans needs in a timely and comprehensive manner.
“To my mind we’re dealing with a really serious harm,” Moser said. “The Schulzes are certainly not alone in having lost their son and trying to get the VA to do something.”
Kevin Giles: (651) 298-1554