This Marine's death came after he served in Iraq
When Jonathan Schulze came home from Iraq, he tried
to live a normal life. But the war kept that from
At first, Jonathan Schulze tried to live with the
nightmares and the grief he brought home from Iraq. He
was a tough kid from central Minnesota, and more than
that, a U.S. Marine to the core.
Yet his moods when he returned home told another story.
He sobbed on his parents' couch as he told them how
fellow Marines had died, and how he, a machine gunner,
had killed the enemy. In his sleep, he screamed the
names of dead comrades. He had visited a psychiatrist at
the VA hospital in Minneapolis.
Two weeks ago, Schulze went to the VA hospital in St.
Cloud. He told a staff member he was thinking of killing
himself, and asked to be admitted to the mental health
unit, said his father and stepmother, who accompanied
him. They said he was told he couldn't be admitted that
day. The next day, as he spoke to a counselor in St.
Cloud by phone, he was told he was No. 26 on the waiting
list, his parents said.
Four days later, Schulze, 25, committed suicide in his
New Prague home.
Citing privacy laws, Veterans Affairs officials wouldn't
comment specifically on the case, nor would they 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 also said that after hearing of Schulze's death, the
hospital is doing an internal review of its procedures.
Schulze's father and stepmother, Jim and Marianne
Schulze of rural Stewart, Minn., say their son would be
alive today if the VA had acted on his pleas for
admittance. They say 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 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
Schulze's family doctor in Stewart, a farming crossroads
in McLeod County, said he was convinced that Schulze
suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a
disabling mental condition that can result from military
"Jonathan was a classic," said Dr. William Phillips, who
said he 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 when he was awake, 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.
The doctor 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 this
week. "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 Jonathans."
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.
Rasmussen said reasons for mental illness among
returning veterans are many and complex, but often
relate to personality changes that service members must
make while in uniform -- and especially in combat zones
-- and then try to readjust to civilian life.
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
heavy 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 them about dismembered bodies. About 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 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. 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."
When Schulze left the Marine Corps, he participated in
military color guards, visited aging veterans in the
state homes, helped anyone in need. He worked with his
stepfather building houses. An unmarried father, Schulze
bragged of adoration for his young daughter, Kaley
Marie, on his MySpace website.
But the war always got in the way of a normal life.
Schulze was on an emotional roller coaster and couldn't
get off, said his close Marine friend from Iraq, Eric
Satersmoen, who with Schulze's stepbrothers described
him as becoming uncharacteristically quiet.
"Lot of inner turmoil, lot of flashbacks, lot of
nightmares," was how Jim Schulze described his son.
The Jan. 11 visit to the VA in St. Cloud came a few
weeks after Jonathan Schulze waited for more than three
hours at the VA hospital in Minneapolis, hoping to be
admitted, Jim Schulze said. His son last saw a
psychiatrist at the Minneapolis VA on Dec. 14 but
someone there told him he couldn't be admitted for
treatment until March, Jim Schulze said. They went to
St. Cloud with the expectation that Jonathan could be
Satersmoen and Travis Schulze think that Jonathan
Schulze didn't intend to kill himself. They said that he
was drunk and confused and speculate that he
unintentionally blacked out before police arrived.
Secondary causes of death, said the Minnesota Regional
Coroner's Office in Hastings, were post-traumatic stress
disorder and acute and chronic alcoholism.
At the funeral in Prior Lake, Schulze lay in his Marine
dress blues, two Purple Hearts and his other medals
pinned to his tunic. Dozens of young men -- fellow
Marines -- gathered in groups to tell stories. They
called him Jonny. He was funny, they said. The life of
Cold wind ripped across the cemetery in Stewart where he
was buried. Veterans from the Hutchinson, Minn., VFW
fired a three-volley salute. Travis Schulze, dressed in
black, and Satersmoen, wearing Marine dress blues,
removed the flag from the casket and folded it. Travis
Schulze presented the flag to his father. And saluted
"He was a delayed casualty of the Iraq war," Jim Schulze
said of Jonathan.
Giles • 612-673-7707 •
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