Parents of Combat Vets Who Committed Suicide Plead for Change

Friday, 11 Jul 2014 09:44 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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Parents of three combat vets testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday about the VA healthcare system that failed their children, who ultimately committed suicide, according to news media reports.

The VA has been under fire since whistleblowers revealed a culture within the agency to falsify records to make it appear as though veterans were receiving timely care when it was actually taking months or years to get an appointment.

In the cases of vets suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury, the subpar care – long wait times, lack of coordinated care – can be the tipping point, driving them into further despair, according to the testimony of Josh Renschler, an Army infantry sergeant who was medically retired after suffering a mortar blast in Iraq, Stars and Stripes reported.

The parents of Iraq War veteran Daniel Somers, who did four combat tours as a Humvee turret gunner, told the committee that their 23-year-old son, who suffered PTSD and traumatic brain injury, killed himself in 2013 after repeatedly experiencing "uncaring, insensitive and adversarial" staff at the VA, including being refused care at a Phoenix VA emergency room in the midst of a panic attack.

The Washington Post reported in the months before his death, Somers’ PTSD deteriorated to the point that "he wore a towel around his head that he said helped keep out the voices, the light and the sound."

Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, said that Somers left behind a note in which he said "he felt his government had abandoned him" and that he returned from war to a "system of dehumanization, neglect and indifference," according to USA Today, which noted that since 2007, the average number of veterans who kill themselves each month has jumped from 17 to 22.

At the hearing, Miller introduced the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which would require such things as reviewing discharges for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, VA mental health services to be listed on centralized websites and placing a priority on recruiting VA psychiatrists, according to Stars and Stripes. The legislation would also mandate an annual outside review of the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention programs.

"I’m begging this committee" to do something, pleaded Peggy Portwine, mother of Brian Portwine, who was re-deployed to war despite suffering PTSD, anxiety, depression and a traumatic brain injury, according to the Post.

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