Photo: Jason Cohn/Reuters
Yesterday we wrote about Phil Stewart’s report for Reuters that laid out the daunting statistics regarding the current state of benefits for veterans.One of the bleak numbers is that a veteran within the VA healthcare system attempts suicide once every half hour.
On Wednesday defence Secretary Leon Panetta called the situation – in which as many as 206 service members have taken their own lives this year compared to 220 coalition forces who have died in attacks in Afghanistan – an “epidemic” and added that “Something is wrong.”
The extended version of the Reuters report includes this story that encapsulates the difficult situation that returning service members face:
On a warm summer afternoon in Champion, Ohio, Michael Ecker, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, called out to his father from a leafy spot in their backyard. Then, as the two stood steps apart, Michael saluted, raised a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
“His eyes rolled back,” his father, Matt, said softly as he recounted the 2009 suicide. “There was just nothing I could do.”
Weeks before he killed himself, Michael received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs accusing him of “over- reporting” the extent of his psychiatric problems. It was the culmination of a long struggle that Ecker, diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury related to his service, had waged since returning home from the war to try to hold down a steady job, obtain VA disability benefits and resume a life as close to normal as possible.
“I’ve often thought about finding that doctor and saying, ‘Over-reporting?!’ and giving him the death certificate,” Matt Ecker said.
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