Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Young Marine Dies Of PTSD - And Neglect

Jonathan Schulze was a United States Marine.

He died earlier this month at the age of 25 -- not in Iraq, but back home, in Minnesota.

He died of wounds received during his seven-month tour of duty in Iraq, wounds different from the ones that earned Schulze two purple hearts. This young man died of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, of wounds to the soul and not the flesh. He died because the government that was there to send him far away to fight in 2004 wasn't there for him when he got home.

Schulze had a harrowing time in Iraq, spending time in the heated battles of Ramadi in April, 2004. While he was there, 35 Marines in his unit were killed, including 17 of them in just 48 hours of combat.

The young Marine was wounded twice in battle but returned home to rebuild his life and to cope with the things he had seen, things he had done and friends he had lost. But, by the time he was discharged from the Marines in late 2005, he was deeply troubled with images of combat and violence that he could not get out of his mind.

According to Minnesota press reports, Schulze went to the Veterans Administration (VA) center in Minneapolis on December 14, 2006, met with a psychiatrist and was told that he could only be admitted for treatment four months later, in March.

On January 11, 2007, accompanied by his parents, he went to the VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota and told people at that VA facility that he was thinking of killing himself. They told Schulze that they could not admit him as a patient and sent him on his way.

The next day, January 12, Schulze called the VA, reiterating that he was feeling suicidal. He was told that he was number 26 on the waiting list.

A man who had risked his life in Iraq and done everything that was asked of him by the United States government, was told by that same government that his sacrifice would be repaid by being 26th on a list of Veterans similarly crying out for help.

"Jonathan wanted help so bad," said Marianne Schulze, Jonathan's stepmother. "At the end of the conversation, Jonathan got off the phone so distressed."

On January 16, Schulze called his family and told them that he was going to do it -- he was going to kill himself. His family called the local police, who raced to his house, kicked in his door and found him hanging from an electrical cord.

Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Having read about Schulze while on a trip to Minnesota, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) brought the story to the floor of the Senate and read it into the record on Monday.

"The story is nearly unbelievable to me," said Dorgan in a speech on the Senate floor. "The newspaper description of the flag-draped coffin of this young marine who earned two Purple Hearts fighting for his country in Iraq contains a sad, sad story of a young marine who should have gotten medical help for serious psychological problems that were the result of his wartime experience."

The Marine's family says that he couldn't sleep, would have nightmares reliving the combat he had experienced and suffered from vivid flashbacks when awake.

“He was a delayed casualty of the Iraq war,” his father, Jim Schulze, a Vietnam Veteran, said of Jonathan.

Jonathan Schulze, who leaves behind his fianceé, a 6-month-old daughter and who had another baby on the way, was a machine gunner who wrote often to his parents about what he was experiencing in Iraq, the firefights, the bombings and dismembered bodies blown apart by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

“I pray so much over here and ask God to keep me out of harm’s way and to make it back home alive and in one piece,” he wrote to his parents in 2004. “I bet I easily pray over a dozen times a day and I always pray while I am on patrol as I am terrified of getting hit by an IED aka a bomb. Our vehicle elements and Marines on patrols are getting hit hard by these bombs the Iraqis plant all over and hide on the ground.”

He survived all of that only to come home and find neglect, the results of an administration big on tax cuts for the wealthy, but not real strong on taking care of Veterans returning home from the war created by the George W. Bush and, until this month, left unchecked by the do-nothing Republican Congress.

As is often the case when things like this happen, the VA is citing privacy laws and won’t talk about the Schulze family’s account of what happened to Jonathan or issue any comment at all.

But Senator Dorgan says he's going to press for answers.

"I am going to ask the inspector general to investigate what happened in this case," said Dorgan on the Senate floor. "What happened that a young man who was a marine veteran with two Purple Hearts turns up at a VA center and says: I am thinking of committing suicide, can you help me, can you admit me, and he is told: No, the list is 26 long in front of you?"

"Are there others who show up at a VA center and say: I need help, only to be told no help is available? I hope that is not the case. It is the unbelievable cost of war."