Howard and Jean Somers tearfully explained on Friday how neglect, lack of treatment and sluggish processes at a Phoenix-area VA hospital — now at the center of a boiling healthcare scandal — contributed to the suicide of of their son, Army veteran Daniel Somers.
The Somers’ family spoke with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin about their son’s unsuccessful fight with the Veterans Administration to receive much-needed mental healthcare. Daniel Somers was treated at the Phoenix-area VA, which an inspector general report confirmed faces a huge appointment backlog and is guilty of leaving 1,700 veterans off an appointment waiting list altogether to meet federal targets.
Howard Somers read a tragic and moving passage from Daniel’s suicide note, prompting a few moments of silence as his parents and Baldwin struggled to regain composure.
“Forgive me,” Baldwin said, wiping away tears. “This is tough . . . Daniel . . . He was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD and a brain injury and Gulf War Syndrome and other medical issues a year after the end of his second deployment.”
“And I know that he sought help from this Phoenix VA, the same VA that happened to coincidentally be at the center of our investigation here,” she continued. “Could you tell me about the process of asking for this appointment, and this seemingly archaic method with a postcard?”
Jean Somers explained how her son was given the run-around for three months when he tried to seek treatment. “He couldn’t get in initially because he was with the National Guard in inactive ready reserve status, which means he wasn’t really discharged,” she explained.
“So he initially went to the VA,” she continued. “They told them they could not see him because he was not a veteran. And they directed him to go to a DoD hospital. When he went to the DoD hospital he was told he was not active duty, and he was considered a veteran and should get services at the VA.”
“So that whole first process, it took three months for the VA to finally agree that they were even the appropriate facility to have access to,” she concluded.
The Somers’ family also explained how an old-fashioned “postcard” system of appointment allocations in Phoenix meant many veterans — including their son — never received a postcard in the mail confirming a one-on-one appointment with a specialist.
“His provider told him that — and this was somebody he had clicked with, it was a psychiatrist — that he was going to be leaving,” Howard Somers explained. “And that Daniel should go out to the desk and make an appointment with another provider.”
“So, he went out — and remember this was 2008,” Howard Somers explained. “2013, he had never received a postcard or any indication that he was going to be set up with another provider.”
In the five-year interim, Daniel Somers was occasionally shuffled into group therapy sessions for treatment — sessions that, for Daniel at least, proved woefully inadequate.