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Vet commits suicide at VA hospital campus

2013-08-26T15:37:00Z 2013-08-27T09:24:17Z Vet commits suicide at VA hospital campusBy SANJAY TALWANI Independent Record Helena Independent Record
August 26, 2013 3:37 pm  • 

A 62-year-old man committed suicide Monday at the Veterans Affairs hospital campus at Fort Harrison.

“We did have a death here on campus,” VA Montana spokeswoman Terrie Casey said. “Obviously we’re saddened and concerned about the event.”

She said the deceased man was a veteran. She did not immediately know whether he was a patient receiving care at the facility.

Lewis and Clark County Coroner M.E. “Mickey” Nelson confirmed that the man died from a single gunshot wound in a restroom with the door closed. It was reported at about 12:30 p.m.

VA police and Lewis and Clark sheriff’s deputies participated in the investigation.

Nelson said it’s the first shooting death he recalls at either of the Helena-area hospitals in his approximately three decades as coroner.

Firearms are prohibited on VA campuses, including in vehicles, Casey said.

As many as 6,500 veterans commit suicide each year, according to a 2012 VA report. Veterans account for more than 20 percent of all suicides in the nation.

The VA has worked to improve veterans’ access to mental health treatment. At Fort Harrison, a new 24-bed mental health unit was completed in 2011, with eight beds each for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and acute mental health issues.

Casey said programs are in place for veterans dealing with crisis. If veterans are uncomfortable with contacting their local VA, they can call the national Veteran Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255, and press 1.

This story has been corrected in the first graph with the proper name of Veteran's Affairs.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(12) Comments

  1. vickyLAC
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    vickyLAC - September 01, 2013 3:54 pm
    When I read Steve_Hatman's post, I cried. I couldn't help but do so. As the mother of a Veteran of the Iraqi War, I have seen first hand the services our Veterans receive at Fort Harrison. I could go on and on about the sub-par services my son has received there and/or those he is in need of and hasn't received, to address his physical, mental and emotional combat related wounds, but I don't want to detract from the sadness and outrage we all, as Americans, should feel related to this Veteran's suicide. A suicide that occurred at the one place he should have been able to get the help he was in desperate need of. The only solace I can find in this, is maybe, just maybe, this Veteran's final act will get the attention needed for our Veterans to get the services they are in need of to heal the wounds they have endured to keep me and every American free. No matter what your personal opinion is on any of the armed conflicts our country has entered in, these brave and selfless souls stepped up to the plate and answered the call our country made. The call made by the leaders we the people elected. Without their courage, our America falls. Just for a moment, think about how different your life would be if you had been born into a country were rights are only for those who have enough money to buy them. Too many of our country's sons and daughters have been sacrificed at the alter of freedom for any of us to not demand they receive these services with the dignity and respect they have earned. We all might also want to consider this the next time an attempt is made by anyone to erode or eradicate any of our Bill of Rights.
  2. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - August 29, 2013 5:20 pm
    Please, Obama just said not long ago he's reduced the VA backload. Thats hogwash. I had put in a claim during Bushs time and it was finished in 7 months. Friend of mine put one in almost 3 years ago and he still hasn't gotten anywhere. As far as Obama blaming, I learned from the expert, Obama. When has he taken responsibility for anything? Its always Bushs fault and/or the GOP. Calling the kettle black are we?
  3. MTveteranadvocate
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    MTveteranadvocate - August 29, 2013 12:24 pm
    My condolences to this man's family and to all of the veterans who continue to suffer. I strongly believe that it is our job as civilians to support those who have suffered wounds serving us. To this end, I invite you to invite all of your friends and neighbors in the Helena area to attend a screening of the movie "The Welcome" at the Myrna Loy on September 11th at 7pm as a benefit for projects benefiting Montana veterans (including an upcoming healing retreat at the Feathered Pipe Ranch: The movie is a great awareness-raiser for those who have little knowledge or awareness of the struggles that many veterans face, and helps in a small way to contribute to a solution.
  4. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - August 29, 2013 12:22 pm
    So far, I've not needed to ask VA for mental health treatment.

    However, I did seek USDVA help with a servce-connected physical problem. The VA folks at FORT HARRISON were most sympathetic, cordial and helpful.

    My experience? VA is not ALL bad.

    (I'm a Life Member of DAV and VFW.)
  5. ThatDevGuy
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    ThatDevGuy - August 29, 2013 8:29 am
    Wow, didn't take long to find a way to blame Obama for this, did it? Grow up, deitz.
  6. hpesoj
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    hpesoj - August 28, 2013 8:49 am
    Steve_Hartman, although I am sympathetic to your situation, and to that of this man who reached his wit's end, your experience is not universal. My father is a 77 year old veteran who receives care at the VA clinic in his town, and often at Fort Harrison. He was diagnosed a few years ago with Bladder Cancer. His care has been thorough, prompt, and provided with tremendous care and concern from his providers. In fact, recently when the cancer returned and it was determined he needed care in Seattle or Salt Lake City, the doctor helped arrange for the needed proceedures to be done at a private hospital in Missoula so as not to create a hardship. The VA has been extraordinarily helpful and efficient in my Dad's care, and we're grateful for that.

    This man's suicide is tragic. But, I don't believe it is paperwork that is the issue. Mental health is not available at the scale it should be, but, again, this is not a problem unique to the VA. There is a shortage of mental health professionals everywhere in Montana. There are constantly openings for Psychiatrists and Psychologists listed with the VA, and with the state and they go unfilled.

    We don't know this man's particular story. Maybe he was waiting, maybe he never voiced his worries or problems to anyone. Maybe he ended his life at the VA to spare his family finding him. Veterans do deserve better care, but the fact is, so does everybody else.
  7. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - August 27, 2013 3:02 pm
    You can thank the hope and change Obama for this. During Bushs time was not as bad as now.
  8. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - August 27, 2013 3:02 pm
    Didn't you hear Obama? Backlog reduced by 15 or 20%. Yea right. Agree with everything you said, 24 years AF.
  9. femalemarineveteran
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    femalemarineveteran - August 27, 2013 2:58 pm
    I replied below my fellow Veteran! Semper Fi ( I see you were Navy, I was Department of the Navy).
  10. InPlainSight
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    InPlainSight - August 27, 2013 1:32 pm
    Like Steve, my Dad also had prostate cancer from agent orange, he had his prostate removed. He also lost his leg to the war. Though, I don't know all the details, I know through the years he has had to cross a lot of red tape to straighten out his disability benefits. And, even though he's given body parts and organs, they can't seem to get it right.
    The process is frustrating and not only for the veteran but for their entire family. The spouses and children of veterans have in most cases also suffered physically or emotionally. The children could have physical illnesses that have been passed down (from chemical exposure, etc.), or emotional issues from dealing with the blowups and depression of their veteran parent, and no benefits for the spouse who devoted their life being the caretaker. That's a heavy burden to carry with little assistance to get through it all. It's easy to see a the possibilities of why one would snap. I know nothing of this man's life, nor am I saying this is his situation, but I am very sorry for his family.
  11. Steve_Hartman
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    Steve_Hartman - August 26, 2013 11:24 pm
    There is a saying that we veterans have concerning the VA that seems somewhat apropos on this sad occasion. It goes like this: "Deny, Deny, until we die." It is so true.

    The average wait for a decision on benefits, if your initial decision locally, goes against you nowadays, is 880 days. That's 2 1/2 years. That's obscene!

    The big problem is paperwork. That's because the VA has fought digitzing tooth-and-nail. What happens if records are digitized? The VA won't need as many people. That means layoffs. The union can't have that, can it?

    In my own case, a simple skin rash told the VA to check for cancer almost two year prior to my diagnosis of prostate cancer. 8 of the 11 conditions associated with the skin rash were malignancies "presumed" due to Agent Orange.

    Did anyone check? No. Did anyone know of the condition? No. Did anyone seem concerned? No. Did anyone apologize? No.

    So I called the IR and asked if the newsroom was interested in doing a story. No. And now I have contacted Senator Tester? Has he done anything? No. Will he do anything. I guess... only time will tell, but I am not hopeful. In the grand scheme of federal politics, I am just an insignificant cog, gumming up the the grand scheme of things.
    But, on this very day that the 62 year old (probable Vietnam Veteran) blew his brains out, I, too, was at Ft. Harrison. I'm 64 (Navy and Air Force) - same war - feeling pretty much the same helplessness as this now dead vet probably felt in dealing with the VA. I guess I can just take a little more than he could. But the VA has a way of pushing each of us to near limits when we're already not well off. Then, almost as if gleefully, they stomp on us a little bit more.
    When we served, as active duty and veterans alike do today, we wrote a blank check to the government to take from us anything our country needed, up to and including our lives. We held up our end of the bargain.
    And the VA? It's like a bunch of politicians. It promises to watch our backs and take care of us if the need arises; but so much of the VA is just empty promises and lip service. And when the hope leave us and despair invades our brains....some just check out. It's just easier. So I guess I am most grateful to my parents. They taught me everything sis work and nothing comes easy. You fight, fight, and fight some more... and giving up is NOT an option.

    I pray my brother rests in peace now.
  12. waterunderground
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    waterunderground - August 26, 2013 6:20 pm
    Horrible! We are failing our veterans in terms of the social and medical safety net. Every vet returning from duty should be provided medical and mental health services without barriers or waiting. Every vet returning from duty should be given work and a paycheck and assistance in transition to the private sector.
    All those complaining about the people who recieve foodstamps and medicaid need to realize that many on those programs are vets and their families. It is depressing and stressful to struggle to feed and provide for family needs as a young person trying to transition to civilian life. We have got to do better.

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