"Unfortunately, we're going to see a lot of Jonathans."
1/30/2007 9:13:11 AM
STEWART, Minn. -- Jonathan Schulze tried to live with the
nightmares and grief he brought home after serving as a Marine in Iraq, but it overwhelmed
him. And he didn't get the help he needed to survive, his family claims.
Two weeks ago, Schulze told a staff member at the VA hospital in St. Cloud that he was
thinking of killing himself and asked to be admitted, according to his father and stepmother,
who accompanied him. They said he was told he couldn't be admitted that day. The next day,
a counselor told him over the phone that he was No. 26 on the waiting list, his parents said.
Four days later, Schulze committed suicide in his New Prague home. He was 25.
"He was a delayed casualty of the Iraq war," said his father, Jim Schulze.
Veterans Affairs officials, citing privacy laws, wouldn't comment on the case or confirm or
deny the Schulze family's account. However, Dr. Sherrie Herendeen, line director for mental
health services at the St. Cloud hospital, said Thursday that under VA policy, a veteran talking
about suicide would immediately be escorted into the hospital's locked mental health unit for
treatment. She said the hospital is now reviewing its procedures.
Schulze's father and stepmother, Marianne Schulze, who live in rural Stewart, said their son
would still be alive if the VA had acted on his pleas for admittance. They said they heard him
tell VA staff in St. Cloud that he felt suicidal -- in person on Jan. 11 at the hospital, and over
the phone on Jan. 12.
On the evening of Jan. 16, Schulze called family and friends to tell them that he was preparing
to kill himself. They called the New Prague police, who smashed in the door and found
him hanging from an electrical cord. Police attempted to resuscitate him, but it was too late.
Schulze's family doctor, Dr. William Phillips of Stewart, said he was convinced that Schulze
suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a disabling mental condition that can result from
"Jonathan was a classic," said Phillips, who first examined Schulze in October 2004 when
Schulze was home on leave from Marine duty. Phillips said Schulze was reliving combat in
his sleep, had flashbacks, couldn't eat, felt paranoid, struggled with relationships and admitted
to drinking alcohol excessively. Phillips prescribed medication to calm his nerves and help
him sleep. He also asked Schulze to seek counseling at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps
base in California where he was assigned. Phillips said he was unable to learn whether
Schulze had done so.
"We don't have a system for this," Phillips said. "The VA is overwhelmed, and we're rural
doctors out here trying to deal with this. Unfortunately, we're going to see a lot of
Maj. Cynthia Rasmussen, the combat stress officer for the 88th Regional Readiness Command
at Fort Snelling, said veterans returning to Minnesota who have problems often don't seek help
until their civilian lives begin to fall apart. "Soldiers think if they go to get help that they're
going to be seen as weak, but they also think their command won't have faith in them," she said.
After Schulze left the Marines in late 2005, he continued to have aching memories of combat.
"When he got back from Iraq he was mentally scattered," said his older brother Travis, who
also served there with the Marines.
Much of Jonathan Schulze's anguish seemed to relate to combat in Ramadi in April 2004.
Schulze, who carried a machine gun, wrote his parents that 16 Marines, many of them close
friends, had died in two afternoons of firefights and bombings. Twice he was wounded but
didn't tell his parents, not wanting them to worry. He wrote about dismembered bodies, youth
and combat and disillusionment. And about the bombs.
"I pray so much over here and ask God to keep me out of harm's way and to make it back
home alive and in one piece," he wrote Jim and Marianne in May 2004. "I bet I easily pray
over a dozen times a day and I always pray while I am on patrol as I am terrified of getting
hit by an IED aka a bomb. Our vehicle elements and Marines on patrols are getting hit hard
by these bombs the Iraqis plant all over and hide on the ground."
Schulze, who had a young daughter, Kaley Marie, carried guilt that fellow Marines died.
He wanted to return to Iraq to somehow redeem himself, said his father, who did three
tours of duty in Vietnam.
Because of that, Schulze at first resisted counseling, Jim Schulze said. "Being a Marine, he
was too proud to get help," he said. "They want to make you impervious of any emotion.
And when you get out it's almost impossible to put it back the way it was."
Return to vets' return "alive" page