(Reuters) - On a warm summer afternoon in Champion, Ohio, Michael Ecker, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, called out to his father from a leafy spot in their backyard. Then, as the two stood steps apart, Michael saluted, raised a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
"His eyes rolled back," his father, Matt, said softly as he recounted the 2009 suicide. "There was just nothing I could do."
Weeks before he killed himself, Michael received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs accusing him of "over-reporting" the extent of his psychiatric problems. It was the culmination of a long struggle that Ecker, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury related to his service, had waged since returning home from the war to try to hold down a steady job, obtain VA disability benefits and resume a life as close to normal as possible.
"I've often thought about finding that doctor and saying, ‘Over-reporting?!' and giving him the death certificate," Matt Ecker said.
About once every half hour in America, a veteran within the VA healthcare system tries to commit suicide, according to VA figures for fiscal year 2011.
President Barack Obama singled out suicide prevention as a priority when he talked about veterans issues on the campaign trail in 2008. He once cited the case of an 89-year-old World War II veteran who took his life the day after complaining about his treatment by the VA.