'Spokesman-Review' Story Proves Another Vet Suicide
By Greg Mitchell
Published: July 22, 2008 4:20 PM ET
NEW YORK A day after the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash. highlighted a surge in vet suicides in her state — and focused on the most recent case where the victim was denied full help by the V.A. — Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) planned to speak out on this issue in a speech on the Hill this afternoon.
The press release from her office notes that she is doing it "to raise awareness of the continuing problem of veterans struggling to get the mental health care they need and the epidemic of veterans suicides….Although, Senator Murray will acknowledge that the VA is taking some helpful steps to address suicides including running advertisements highlighting their 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, Murray will call for more to be done. In her speech, Senator Murray will call for an increase in resources to boost outreach, breakdown barriers to care, and ensure that veterans are not turned away when they seek mental health care at VA facilities."
Yesterday's Spokesman-Review piece by Kevin Graman opened: "A distraught 26-year-old Navy veteran who had a history of mental illness hanged himself within three hours of seeking help at Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The July 7 death of Lucas Senescall was the sixth suicide this year of a veteran who had contact with the Spokane VA, a marked increase in such deaths.
"Last year, there were two suicides among veterans treated at the local VA.
"Senescall's death comes amid heightened concern nationwide over the suicide rate among veterans."
The identity of another veteran who killed himself this year became public when his family wrote Sen. Murray in April about concerns with V.A. mental health care. He was Spc. Timothy Juneman, 25, a National Guardsman.
The week before he died, Juneman received final notification that the Guard had rescinded a promise not to send him back to Iraq for two years. An excerpt from the lengthy article follows, with much more on Senescall's final hours. It is up at www.spokesmanreview.com
The same VA psychiatrist, Dr. William L. Brown, attended Senescall on the day he died and Juneman in early January when he was released from inpatient suicide watch at the Spokane VA. Brown had prescribed Juneman several medications, including potent antidepressant, anti-anxiety and antipsychotic drugs.
Parents of both dead veterans have independently raised concerns that the Spokane VA could have done more to save their sons.
"He was begging for help, and they kicked him to the curb," said Senescall's father, Steve Senescall, of Spokane, who drove his son to the hospital and was with him during a brief consultation with Brown.
Said Juneman's mother, Jacqueline Hergert, of Toledo, Wash.: "This thing should never have happened with my son."
Juneman was a combat veteran diagnosed by the Spokane VA with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was attending Washington State University. "As soon as those diagnoses were made, somebody should have been standing on a soapbox for him, and nothing was done," Hergert said.
UPDATE: Sen. Murray's office sent along a note stating that her interest in this issues days back well before the latest incident: "Senator Murray has an extremely long history of placing a spotlight on veterans suicides, veterans mental health, and a lack of veterans resources. In fact, in her role as a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, she has been widely recognized as the leading Congressional voice on many of these issues. Her accomplishments include passing the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act, the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, and veterans spending and budget bills that have made record investments in veterans care."
Greg Mitchell's book, "So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Fails on Iraq," includes several chapters on suicides among vets in Iraq and here at home.
Greg Mitchell ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor.