Local News

Son’s Suicide Prompts Man to Seek Military Mental Health Reform

Posted March 14, 2008 2:50 p.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2008 2:52 p.m. EDT

— The father of a Sanford soldier, who committed suicide while serving in Iraq, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee Friday about the need for mental health reform in the military.

Chris Scheuerman, a retired Special Forces masters sergeant, said he believes his son felt alone and had nowhere to go before committing suicide while serving with the Army.

Pfc. Jason Scheuerman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 30, 2005.

“Jason desperately needed a second opinion after his encounter with the Army psychologist,” Chris Scheuerman told members of the Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee.

“The army did offer him that option, but at his own expense. How is a PFC (private first class) in the middle of Iraq supposed to get to a civilian mental health care provider at his own expense?” he said. “I believe a soldier should be afforded the opportunity to a second opinion via teleconference with a civilian mental health care provider of their own choice.”

Chris Scheuerman noted a “great disparity” of opinions between Jason’s chaplain and psychologist. The chaplain described him as “clearly troubled,” while the psychologist alleged that Jason “was capable of (faking) mental illness in order to manipulate his command.”

Chris Scheuerman said Army officials told him his son did not leave behind a suicide note.

After struggling to obtain documents related to his son’s death through the Freedom of Information Act, Chris Scheuerman said he discovered that his son did write a suicide note.

In 2007, Chris Scheuerman contacted U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge’s (D-Lillington) office for help.

On Oct. 1, 2007, Etheridge asked Army Secretary Pete Geren to launch an investigation into Jason’s death. The Office of the Inspector General was still conducting the investigation as of Friday.

Chris Scheuerman said if military officials had contacted him or his wife, Jason would have probably still been alive today.

“We knew Jason was having problems. If they had called us, there would have been a different outcome,” he said.

He suggested Friday that the military set up a hotline for soldiers to call.

“There has to be a safety net,” he said.

Chris Scheuerman also requested that an independent panel do a retrospective analysis of military suicides to find other mistakes or commonalities.

“Our family’s loss could have been a powerful training tool,” he said. “I believe we always learn more from our failures than our successes.”