Saturday, February 24, 2007

Murder Charge in Non-combat Death

Posted: Friday, February 23rd, 2007 5:14 AM HST

Hickam airman charged with fellow airman's shooting death

By Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) _ A Hawaii-based airman has been charged with the shooting death of a fellow Hickam airman in Iraq last year.

A military charge sheet says Airman First Class Kyle Dalton shot Airman First Class Carl Ware Junior with a nine-millimeter pistol.

Military officials say Dalton will face a court-martial on April 23rd at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Few details, including a motive, have been revealed about the shooting.

The military first reported the death as a non-combat related incident. Ware, who was 22 years old, was married to Senior Airman Christine Ware, also of Hickam Air Force Base. The couple have a one-year-old daughter, Caitlyn.

From the Air Force Times:

A1C accused of killing fellow airman in Iraq

By Erik Holmes - staff writerPosted : Saturday Feb 24, 2007 6:16:36 EST

Airman 1st Class Carl J. Ware Jr. was to return from his six-month deployment to Iraq in time — if barely — for the birth of their second daughter in January. Instead, Carl Ware came home months early in a flag-draped casket, the victim of an alleged fratricide July 1 at the hands of his roommate, friend and squadron-mate at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Carl and Christine Ware were relative newlyweds, and they weren’t inclined to make plans beyond getting ready for the new baby.

After all, they were only 22 years old and assumed they had all the time in the world to think about the future.
“Our only plan was to get a new vacuum when he got home,” said Christine Ware, a former airman. “The only thing we knew was that we wanted to come home [to Delaware] on vacation to have the baby.”

Airman 1st Class Kyle J. Dalton, like Ware a member of the 15th Security Forces Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, faces court-martial on charges of murder, assault and wrongfully drawing or aiming a firearm after allegedly shooting and killing Ware with a 9mm handgun. The Air Force declined to release Dalton’s age and hometown, citing privacy concerns.

Dalton’s court-martial is scheduled to begin April 23 at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; if convicted, he will face life in prison, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Dalton, who has been in the Air Force since July 2003, is not in pretrial confinement, but he remains in Southwest Asia at an undisclosed base. A Central Command Air Forces spokesman declined to say where Dalton is stationed, citing “host nation sensitivities.”

His tour was extended so he could be closer to his defense counsel, Capt. Jason Robertson, who is at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

Dalton and Ware deployed in May with the 886th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron to Camp Bucca, an Army detention facility for captured enemy fighters.

The Air Force Safety Center originally said in July that Ware’s death was the result of an accidental discharge while another airman was cleaning a weapon.

Christine Ware, who now lives in Glassboro, N.J., said it didn’t become clear until months later that the incident was being treated as a murder. But she said she was suspicious from the beginning.

“I personally don’t believe it was an accident,” she said. “I never thought that’s what happened in the first place.”

Ware’s parents, Carl and Rosalie Ware of Dinuba, Calif., said the Air Force told them in November that it was time “to stop referring to Carl’s death as an accident.”

Charges were filed Nov. 30, and Dalton had an Article 32 hearing — roughly equivalent to a civilian grand jury proceeding — Dec. 20 at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. Neither Dalton’s attorney nor the prosecuting attorney responded to requests for comment.

The chain of events alleged by the Air Force is still unclear. CentAF has refused to release signed summaries of the statements made by witnesses at the Article 32 hearing, despite the fact that the hearing was open to the public. A CentAF spokesman said the summaries are not releasable because making them public could prejudice the court-martial.

Christine Ware, now 23, said even she does not have the full story of the allegations because the Air Force has not provided her with the investigation report. She filed a request for it under the Freedom of Information Act.

She declined to reveal all the details of what she has heard about the events.

“I don’t want to compromise anything that’s going to happen,” she said, referring to the trial.

Ware and Dalton met at Hickam in early 2006, Christine Ware said, but they were only acquaintances while in Hawaii.

Members of the 15th Security Forces Squadron form a tight-knit group and hang out together socially, but Dalton had been at Hickam only since January 2006 and the men were assigned to different flights, so they didn’t know each other well.

Christine Ware has met Dalton twice, both times at barbecues thrown at the Wares’ home in Hawaii. “He was nice,” she said. “He didn’t seem like he was capable of killing someone.”

Another member of their squadron who trained in Texas and then deployed with Ware and Dalton said the two seemed to get along well. The source asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to reporters.

The men were friends and shared common interests such as video games, the source said.

“To my knowledge there was never any friction between Airman Ware and Airman Dalton,” the source said.

“They never expressed any displeasure toward each other. They were actually very good friends, from what I could see.”

How this friendship allegedly disintegrated into a shooting death and murder charge is unknown.

What is clear from documents released by the Air Force is that there were at least two, and possibly three, separate incidents during a one-month period in which Dalton allegedly brandished a firearm toward Ware.
The first and second, for which Dalton has been charged with assault, occurred around June 1 and June 30, according to Air Force documents.

Christine Ware, who said she just recently learned of those incidents, told Air Force Times that Dalton allegedly pointed a loaded firearm at the feet of Ware and another airman. The other airman, according to the documents, was Airman 1st Class Ryan J. Gasper, also of the 15th Security Forces Squadron. Gasper, who has returned to his unit in Hawaii, said he does not want to discuss the incidents until after Dalton’s trial.

About 3 p.m. July 1, Dalton shot Ware in the chest with a 9mm handgun while the men were in their shared dorm room, authorities said. It is unclear whether the murder charge and the second assault charge are related to the same incident, and a CentAF spokesman was unable to clarify.

The charge sheet released by the Air Force originally listed both incidents as occurring on July 1, but someone then crossed out that date regarding the second assault charge and changed it to June 30.
Ware’s father, Carl Ware Sr., said that medics on the scene did all they could to save his son.

“It appears that … the bullet wound caused such massive injury initially that there just wasn’t much they could do,” he said.

Christine Ware said she does not know what the motive for the alleged murder was, but she hopes to get more information when Air Force lawyers brief her in the coming weeks. She also hopes to learn more about a possible motive at the trial, which she plans to attend.

“I have, like, 18 different stories on how it happened,” Christine Ware said, “but not so much why it happened.”

Christine Ware is an amiable young mother of two who laughs easily and often, despite losing her husband eight months ago.

She and Carl had been together since they were 14 years old, and she was drawn to his ability to use humor to put others at ease.

“He always made a joke out of the situation, whatever it was,” she said. “No matter what was going on, he was always calm, and he was able to make a bad situation better.”

The couple married at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, in January 2003 after Christine finished Air Force basic military training. Carl enlisted in the service about a year later.

Their first daughter, Caitlyn, was born in July 2005, and their second daughter, Carly, was born Jan. 5. Carl was scheduled to return from Iraq a couple weeks before Carly’s birth, and the Wares were planning a trip to Delaware and New Jersey to have the baby.

Carl’s relationship with his parents was strained, and Christine said the couple regarded David and Barbara Stutzbach of Glassboro, N.J., as their closest family.

Carl lived with the Stutzbachs, his legal guardians, after his family went to California when he was 14.

David Stutzbach served 20 years as an aircraft crew chief in the Air Force, retiring as a master sergeant in 2001. Christine said Carl joined the Air Force in part because he wanted to follow in his guardian’s footsteps and in part because he was interested in police work. “He’s always wanted to be a military police officer,” she said. “He was going to apply to K-9 after he got back from Iraq.”

One of Carl’s favorite hobbies, Christine said, was playing poker with friends. She said the same skills that made him a good poker player also made him a good cop.

“He knew how to read people really well,” she said. “I think it helped him out a lot, because he was able to tell who was lying and who was telling the truth when he interviewed them.”

Despite the seriousness of police work, Christine said, Carl was known in the squadron as something of a class clown.

“He was a jokester at work,” she said, “but he always did it so he could still get the job done and not get in trouble.”

Christine moved to New Jersey after Carl’s death and stayed with the Stutzbachs until September. She now lives just down the street from them and sees them every day.

“They’re like my mom and dad,” she said. “They’ve taken care of us when we’ve needed them.”
Christine is in school to become a kindergarten teacher, and she plans to start working part time after the trial.

She said she promised Carl that she would finish school, and she plans to keep that promise.

Links to More on Mistreatment of US Soldiers,0,3927998,print.story,0,3927998,print.story,0,1209631.storygallery

--Submitted by Patti Woodard

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

DOD Announcement, February 20, 2007


No. 198-07February 20, 2007

Department to Review Military Medical Rehabilitative and Administrative Care

The Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy have begun a review of the medical care provided at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center to those wounded in service to their country. To complement these efforts an independent review group will be formed to look into outpatient care and administrative processes at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center.

The group shall promptly conduct its work and report its findings and provide recommendations to the Secretaries of the Army and Navy and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

"The quality of medical and rehabilitative care for all service members at our DoD facilities is second to none," said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "We are committed to improving the clinical and administrative processes, including improving temporary living conditions for our service members and their families."

The group will have unrestricted access to all facilities and personnel and will be provided appropriate assistance and administrative support to conduct this review.

The group shall also have a special advisor not serving as a member of the group, who can provide special advice and expertise in the area of social work, rehabilitation, psychological counseling and family support issues.

Moral Waivers and the Military

--from the New York Times

Published: February 20, 2007

The Iraq war has plunged the Army into a vicious cycle of declining standards. Multiple, extended tours of duty have sapped morale and blighted recruiting. New plans for a larger overall force could reduce pressures but would also mean that recruiters would have to meet higher quotas.

To keep filling the ranks, the Army has had to keep lowering its expectations. Diluting educational, aptitude and medical standards has not been enough. Nor have larger enlistment bonuses plugged the gap. So the Army has found itself recklessly expanding the granting of “moral waivers,” which let people convicted of serious misdemeanors and even some felonies enlist in its ranks.

Last year, such waivers were granted to 8,129 men and women — or more than one out of every 10 new Army recruits. That number is up 65 percent since 2003, the year President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. In the last three years, more than 125,000 moral waivers have been granted by America’s four military services.

Most of last year’s Army waivers were for serious misdemeanors, like aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and vehicular homicide. But around 900 — double the number in 2003 — were for felonies. Worse, the Army does no systematic tracking of recruits with waivers once it signs them up, and it does not always pay enough attention to any adjustment problems. Without adequate monitoring and counseling, handing out guns to people who have already committed crimes poses a danger to the other soldiers they serve with and to the innocent civilians they are supposed to protect.

There is a long and honorable history of young people who have had minor scrapes with the law joining the military and successfully turning their lives around. But those who have committed more serious crimes, especially those involving weapons, vehicular homicide or sexual abuse, should generally be denied moral waivers. And those who do qualify for waivers should be monitored, counseled and carefully supervised.

The fastest way to drop the rate of moral waivers would be for the Army to rebuild its recently tarnished reputation among less problematic young Americans. That will require an end to involuntarily extended tours of duty and accelerated, multiple redeployments into combat. The military is America’s face to much of the world. It ought to present the best face of American youth.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Other Walter Reed

Click on the title above to read this heartbreaking article in the Washington Post.

Experts say many suicidal war vets don't seek counseling

The Associated Press - Sunday, February 18, 2007


After David Fickel had been honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, friends and family members noticed he changed from a fun-loving guy to an anxious, angry man. They urged him to get help.

"We tried," said his stepfather, Mitch Aanden. "He said, 'No, I'm tough. I am a Marine.'"

Fickel, 25, took his own life with a shotgun last Memorial Day.

He is one of 13 active-duty or discharged servicemen under age 30 who committed suicide in Minnesota between Jan. 1, 2003, and last October, according to death records. Star Tribune interviews with relatives of 10 of those veterans said their loved ones hadn't sought counseling.

Experts say many suicide victims don't seek treatment, and surveys show six of 10 servicemen who need mental health counseling don't seek it.

Suicide by war veterans gained attention after Jonathan Schulze, a Marine veteran who fought in Iraq, took his life Jan. 16. His family says the St. Cloud VA Medical Center turned him away when he talked of suicide. Veterans Affairs officials won't comment and officials are investigating.

But his death raised concerns about the needs of 1.4 million troops whose duties in Iraq and Afghanistan can involve intense combat. Recent research found that nearly one in six recent combat veterans reported experiencing depression, general anxiety or post-traumatic stress.

In Iraq and Kuwait, 22 U.S. soldiers killed themselves in 2005, nearly double the national rate, an Army study found.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is nearly four times as common in veterans of Army or Marine ground units in Iraq and Afghanistan than in servicemen in other units, according to a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

People who commit suicide often have depression, relationship problems or alcohol- and drug-abuse problems.

"All these things are warning signs, and the more you have, the more likely it is to happen," said Dr. Paula Clayton, retired head of the University of Minnesota psychiatry department and now medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York.

Dr. Martha Sajatovic, a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said post-traumatic stress complicates treatment.

"If I have a problem already, and I toss another problem on top of that, the burden I have to struggle with is going to be greater," said Sajatovic.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it's working to improve services for vets and it has programs.
"Everyone at the VA wants to reach these guys and get them in and support them when they come home," said Dr. Lawrence E. Adler, director of a VA mental health research center in Denver, which this month co-sponsored a conference on veteran suicide.

Robin Aanden said her son, David Fickel, was a level-headed, caring kid. He made people laugh and loved to play baseball and golf.

Fickel graduated from Litchfield High School in 1999 and hoped to be a teacher. His interest in the Marines surfaced in his junior year, surprising his family.

After boot camp, Fickel transferred to Camp Lejeune, N.C. His unit went to Korea and Japan. After Sept. 11, 2001, his unit went to Afghanistan and later to the Persian Gulf.

When he returned home after four years of Marine duty, he'd changed.

"He quieted down," said Grady Huggett, his best friend.

Fickel seemed anxious that he'd be called back, said his sister Haley. He spoke vaguely of war, offering hints of sniper duty in Afghanistan. He told Huggett that he had shot people.

Early last year, he quit eating right, lost weight, slept badly and stopped caring about his appearance, his mother said. He drank heavily and got arrested for drunken driving, she said.

"I told him his anger was getting out of control," she added. When she offered to make an appointment for help at a clinic, he wouldn't go.

The day before his death, Fickel talked to his sisters and best friend about killing himself. They said they got him away from his loaded shotgun, and spent the evening around a bonfire in his sisters' back yard. They thought he was better, but he took his life the next day.

Information from: Star Tribune,

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Thursday, February 15, 2007

House Subcommittee Asks Archive for FOIA Reform Advice

National Security Archive Update, February 14, 2007

House Subcommittee Asks Archive for FOIA Reform Advice

Archive General Counsel Testifies that Congress Should Mandate Solutions; Cites 17 Year Delays, Lost Requests, and Agency Obstruction of FOIA

For more information contact:Meredith Fuchs - 202/994-7000

Washington, DC, February 14, 2007 - National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs today told the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that, "problems [with the Freedom of Information Act system] will not be solved unless Congress mandates solutions.

"Ms. Fuchs recommended that Congress reform the FOIA to require better annual reporting and tracking of FOIA requests, citing examples of processing delays as long as 17 years and agency mismanagement or obstruction of requests causing delay.

She also called on Congress to stop agencies from playing litigation games that cost requesters and taxpayers money and waste judicial resources. She referenced examples of agencies that fail to take responsible legal positions until after a requester has filed a lawsuit and then suddenly reverse course when it becomes clear that a court will likely rule against the agency.

She advocated revision of the FOIA's attorneys' fees provision as a solution.

Ms. Fuchs explained that, "Despite many outstanding people administering FOIA programs throughout the government - and they deserve praise for their work - there are far too many FOIA offices that fail to live up to the expectations of the law and the needs of the taxpaying public."

Ms. Fuchs testified on a panel that included Clark Hoyt, former Washington Editor for Knight Ridder, who testified on behalf of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, and Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition, representatives of the General Accounting Office and the Department of Justice testified.

The Archive has been at the forefront of organizations using and assessing the Freedom of Information Act.

The Archive has completed five government-wide audits of FOIA administration (supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation). Recommendations from the Archive's reports on those audits have been adopted in President Bush's Executive Order 13,392 ("Improving Agency Disclosure of Information"), included in FOIA legislationintroduced in earlier Congresses by Senators Cornyn and Leahy, and Congressmen Smith and Waxman, and included as goals in many of the 91 agency FOIA Improvement Plans developed under the Executive Order.For more information, see today's posting at .

THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

-- submitted by Patti Woodard

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Death Tolls Manipulated

Fox News reports that non-combat deaths are not included in the statistics of military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Click on the link above to go to the story.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Husband's death was murder, not suicide, widow says

by James Muñoz

The 2003 death of Col. Philip Shue was ruled a suicide by the justice of the peace.
His widow is fighting that ruling all the way to the Texas Supreme Court because she believes her husband was murdered.

Shue, 54, was found dead April 16, 2003, along Interstate 10 near Boerne.
Kendall County Justice of the Peace Nancy White didn't win re-election. She now lives in another city. Her attorneys say she shouldn't have to explain the "thought-processes" behind her ruling.

"Col. Shue's chest had been mutilated. His wrists and ankles were covered in duct tape," said attorney Jason Davis, who represents Mrs. Shue.

"[Mrs. Shue] and many others believe it was a murder, including experts who have analyzed the same evidence," Davis said.

The truth, in this story, may be stranger than fiction, because Shue's vehicle slammed into a tree, his chest was mutilated, a finger was cut off and there was duct tape around his wrists and ankles.

"And yet, Judge White came on to the scene and declared it in a matter of minutes an accident, and the question is, 'Why?', and now she's going to remarkable lengths to avoid for having to answer to that," Davis said.

White's attorneys say this isn't a cover up. If JPs always had to answer to subpoenas and depositions, there would be no end to the second-guessing and harassment of the judges, her attorneys said.

"No, we're not going to let litigants dissatisfied with a judge's ruling, go sue somebody else and use the civil discovery process, to harass and abuse these judges," White's attorney Patrick Ballantyne said.

Mrs. Shue's attorney sees it differently.

"It's a pretty simple case of a witness just refusing to answer," Davis said.
Shue's widow is suing the insurance company USAA, saying the agency failed to cancel life insurance policies that led to death threats against the Mr. Shue.
USAA said they cannot comment on pending litigation.
A Kendall County court-at-law judge ordered White to testify by deposition, but she refused. Last week, the 4th Court of Appeals upheld that decision, but White still refuses. The case is now being appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

KENS video: Husband's death was murder, not suicide, widow says

Former Kendall County JP Nancy White
Appeals Court Denial for Judicial Immunity in Shue Case

Ron Gordon
Kendall County

What’s next in the Colonel Philip Shue death investigation, seemingly having more twists and turns than a Tom Clancy novel? The mysterious circumstances leading to death of Colonel Philip Shue and the many unanswered questions surrounding the death investigation, continues, almost four years later, with no end in sight.

On January 5, 2007, Tracy Shue filed, for a third time, a Motion to Compel former Kendall County Justice of the Peace Nancy White to answer the basic questions of why and with what evidence she concluded Colonel Philip Shue’s Manner of Death a “Suicide.” Over the past year, the Kendall County Court has repeatedly ruled to deny the former JP’s Motion to Quash and Request for Immunity in answering the why and with what evidence questions, citing the duties and mental processes of a Coroner would not be protected under the “Mental Processes Rule.” But, true to form in the Shue case, the fight is not over and former JP Nancy White, with her legal “Dream Team“, paid for by the taxpayers of Kendall County, have now filed to appeal the decision of Judge Bill Palmer.

Kendall County News has requested the Commissioner’s Court to provide an estimate of the current and projected legal costs pertaining to the actions of the former Kendall County Justice of the Peace. No response has been received to date.

Former Kendall County Judge is Order to Answer Questions for The Third Time

Ron Gordon
Kendall County

For those of you familiar or unfamiliar with the Tracy Shue case, here is a breakdown with the timeline of events, and where we stand as of today.

On December 28, 2005 Tracy Shue filed to have Judge Nancy White give a deposition on the cause of death on Colonel Philip Shue.

Judge White filed a motion to Quash on January 13, 2006, for Protective Order to avoid her deposition. She objected to being deposed in part on the basis of the “Mental Processes Rule”

Ten days later Judge Palmer overruled Judge White’s “Mental Processes Rule“ objection and ordered her to proceed with the deposition.

Judge White was not satisfied with the Judge’s ruling and yet filed another motion for clarification of the court’s January 23rd Order. Judge White again argued that her deposition be quashed on the basis of the “Mental Processes Rule”

Once again on February 23, 2006 the court denied Judge White’s motion for clarification and order that her deposition proceeds.

This brings us to the deposition on November 10, 2006. Judge White refused to answer some questions that her lawyers thought was abusive which violated the court’s order. Her answer to the questions being asked was part on the basis of the “Mental Processes Rule”

Judge White abused the discovery process and failed to comply with two previous orders from the court. Given these prior orders, there was no justifiable excuse for Judge White’s failure to answer questions posed to her during her deposition. Such conduct necessitated Tracy Shue’s filed motion to compel and motion for cost.

This brings us to January 5, 2007. Shue’s attorney opened up the argument about wasting the court’s time and money going over an issue that was already ruled on by Judge Palmer, twice. Judge White’s attorney followed by stating that she did not have to answer any questions based on her being, at that time, a Judge. Judge Palmer then asked Judge White’s attorney, (paraphrasing) “A Medical Examiner can give testimony on the ruling of death. In Kendall County, the Medical Examiner is also the Justice of the Peace; so in this case, she wears two hats acting as the Justice of the Peace as well as the Medical Examiner. In acting as the Medical Examiner, Judge White does not then qualify for the “Mental Processing Rule“, because in this capacity for this case, Judge White was also the Medical Examiner.” Judge White’s attorney then followed that comment by saying, “Well that’s different!” and in true Judge White fashion, no additional reasoning from Counsel was provided.

Shue’s attorney rebutted and went over how Judge White last year, had a news conference the day before depositions were to be heard. She released confidential information to the Media, which included Social Security numbers, phone numbers and addresses of Tracy and Col. Philip Shue. Then Judge Palmer asked where the original paperwork was located now and Shue’s attorney answered with, “All I have is copies.” Then Former Judge White, not her attorneys, blurted out stating where the original documents were located. After that, her attorney turned to her and stated quickly, “Do not say another word.”

After hearing about 45 minutes of both Counsels pleading their cases, Judge Palmer ordered that Judge Nancy White’s deposition be reset for 9:00am on January 26, 2007. The case will be heard at the Kendall County Courthouse. It was ordered that Judge White must answer all questions which she did not answer in her depositions urging the Mental Process Objection. Lastly, Judge White is to pay court costs and court reporter costs for continuation of deposition.

To add insult to injury, Judge White’s attorneys advised Judge Palmer that they are appealing his decision to the Circuit Court. Also, Judge White’s attorneys didn’t feel it was fair that she be responsible for the court, court reporter and deposition costs, in which then Judge Palmer summed up the sentiments felt in the court, by stating, “Well if she had answered the questions during the last depositions, we wouldn’t be here today!”

All Tracy Shue asked for was an inquest which has been denied to this day. The question that needs to be answered by Former Judge Nancy White is: How did she find that suicide was the cause of death for Col. Philip Shue???????????

--Submitted by Tracy Shue

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sen. Akaka Wants Explanation About Events Before Iraq War Veteran's Suicide

Sen. Akaka Wants Explanation About Events Before Iraq War Veteran's Suicide
Thursday , February 01, 2007

A U.S. senator from Hawaii has asked the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to explain what happened before the suicide of an Iraq war veteran who, according to his family, had sought help at two VA hospitals in Minnesota.

In his Jan. 29 letter, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii and chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, asked for an expedited analysis of the events preceding the Marine's death, as well as a description of actions the VA is taking to prevent similar tragedies.

According to previous news reports, Jonathan Schulze, 25, of New Prague, told a staff member at the VA hospital in St. Cloud two weeks ago that he was thinking of killing himself and he asked to be admitted. His father and stepmother, who accompanied him to the hospital, said he was told he couldn't be admitted that day. The next day, a counselor told him by phone that he was No. 26 on a waiting list, his parents said.

Four days later, Schulze committed suicide.

A team of federal investigators was due to arrive at the VA medical centers in Minneapolis and St. Cloud on Thursday to look into the family's claims.

Rep. John Kline , R-Minn., said VA officials in Minneapolis, St. Cloud and Washington told him they dispute that Schulze presented himself to hospital staff as suicidal. Kline said it should be clearer next week, after the investigation ends, just what happened in the exchange between Schulze and VA staff.

"It's just unconscionable that you have a man that's identified by the system, yet he gets to the point where he commits suicide," said Kline, a retired Marine who represents Schulze's district.

Akaka said the issues go beyond just Schulze's case.

"I am concerned that reports of VA's failure to respond to Mr. Schulze's request for help may indicate systemic problems in VA's capacity to identify, monitor, and treat veterans who are suicidal," Akaka wrote in his letter to Dr. Michael J. Kussman, the acting undersecretary for health with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A phone message left Wednesday with Schulze's father and stepmother was not immediately returned to The Associated Press.

Joan Vincent, public affairs officer at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center, said she couldn't comment on Akaka's letter, and that privacy laws prevented her from confirming whether Schulze had been at the facility.

She said internal reviews are ongoing and the VA is "very, very good about trying to learn what happened when an adverse event occurs."

"Our biggest concern is this is a really tragic incident and of course we express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of this young man," Vincent said. "We also want to encourage anyone with suicidal thoughts to seek help."

Steve Moynihan, public affairs officer for the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, also could not get into specifics of Schulze's case.

One unresolved question is how full the hospitals were.

Ten of 25 beds in the Minneapolis VA's locked psychiatric unit are occupied this week, Moynihan said Wednesday. He said the unit doesn't have a waiting list.

The St. Cloud VA has no waiting list for its locked psychiatric unit — and never has, Vincent said. However, a separate residential mental health unit with beds had a waiting list of 21 veterans on Monday, she said. That unit is more for ongoing cases involving mental health and substance abuse, she said.

"We've never had a wait list for our beds in the acute psychiatric unit, where we would likely take people if we were thought they were suicidal," Vincent said.

In an earlier media report, Schulze's father, Jim Schulze, and his stepmother, Marianne Schulze, said their son would still be alive if the VA acted on his pleas for admittance. His parents said he unsuccessfully sought help at the facility in Minneapolis before going to St. Cloud.

On Jan. 16, Schulze called family and friends to tell them he was preparing to kill himself. They called the New Prague police, who found him hanging from an electrical cord.

Schulze's family doctor said he was convinced Schulze suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"For a veteran at risk of suicide, contact with VA must trigger a response that will prevent suicide and provide ongoing monitoring and care," wrote Akaka.

He said that in 2004, a series of initiatives were developed to improve VA's ability to prevent suicide, and he believes all those initiatives have not been implemented. He asked the VA for information on efforts to continue to prevent suicide among vets.

Separately, the Minnesota Senate on Wednesday issued a statement also asking for information on prevention efforts, and urging the VA to find out what led to the tragedy.

--Submitted by Patti Woodard