Marine Cpl. Jonathan J. Shulze, 25, New Prague, Minn
Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson, who testified yesterday before the House Appropriations Committee, has been met with tough questioning this week on Capitol Hill about the VA’s proposed budget and, in particular, about the case of a decorated Iraq war veteran who took his own life after being put on a waiting list for in patient mental health.
Members of House and Senate committees on veterans affairs say the story of Marine Private Jonathan Schulze, 25, of Stewart, Minn. , stands as a tragic example of how the federal government is under funding the VA, which they believe is straining to provide for wounded veterans.
Schulze, who was the recipient of two Purple Hearts for his service during a tour of duty near Fallujah in 2004, packed his bag on Jan. 11 and tried to check himself into a psychiatric unit in St. Cloud, Minn. , telling the in take counselor he was suicidal.
He was turned away, his family said, and placed 26th on a waiting list for a 12-bed specialized psychiatric unit for post-traumatic stress disorder, a sometimes debilitating mental illness triggered by memories of war. It is plaguing an estimated 1 in 5 veterans returning from Iraq.
Schulze’s father, James, and stepmother, Marianne, who were with him when he tried to be admitted, insist he told in take officials twice that he was suicidal — in person Jan. 11, and the next day over the phone.
Four days later, Schulze hanged himself with a household extension cord in the basement of a New Prague, Minn., apartment where he was living temporarily with a war buddy, Major Eric Satersmoen.
Satersmoen , 25, said he tried unsuccessfully to help Schulze navigate the bureaucracy of the VA on many occasions and was with him when he made a phone call on Jan. 2 informing his primary care physician at the VA that he was suicidal. Satersmoen remembers that he was told he would not get a bed in a unit until March due to overcrowding.
Marine Cpl. Jonathan J. Schulze died 01/16/07.