Viral Suicide Note Puts Spotlight on the VA

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By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, Iraq War veteran Daniel Somers took his own life. His family posted his powerfully written suicide note on the Internet.

Now, the help that he desperately sought, but did not receive from the VA, may be offered to others because of his death.

Somers’ note described what it was like to suffer from crippling depression and war-related psychosis. It also slammed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which he characterized as careless.

Somers was a sergeant in an intelligence unit, where he ran 400 combat missions as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee. According to his parents, Howard and Jean Somers, in 2008 their son was diagnosed with PTSD, a brain injury, Gulf War syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a host of other medical problems, one year after the end of his second deployment.

His family insisted that his story should be shared in order to show how much change the system needs. The information his family is sharing revolves around what they see as the VA’s bureaucratic process. They feel the system could be fixed by a more organized patient database, and better communication among health professionals.

Jean Somers said her son waited months for an appointment at the VA, possibly due to an incorrect address that was entered into the VA system. He waited more than two years for a benefits claim. And, once the VA did give him access to therapy, they mandated that he had to attend group therapy or receive no therapy. Because of his security clearance, Somers was not allowed to discuss his wartime activities in a group session. So his wife was forced to find treatment for him in the private sector, absorbing the cost of his medication, treatment and therapy sessions out of pocket.

A national critique of the VA system has prompted the Obama administration to allocate more funding to improve its resources. In August, the president signed an order to improve veterans’ and service members’ access to mental health services. The department has hired at least 1,600 new mental health professionals and opened a 24-hour crisis line in March that has already handled more than 814,000 calls, some 94,000 chats, and 7,200 texts, and “helped more than 28,000 veterans in imminent danger.