Veteran's widow speaks out against Mpls. VA

3:46 PM, Sep 10, 2012   |    comments
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Raymond Schwritz

ZUMBRO FALLS, Minn. -- There's a lot to celebrate in Jean Schwirtz's life. Her son and future daughter-in-law welcomed the family's first grandchild and her daughter is getting married in a few weeks. But the man who helped her start this family isn't here to share the joy.

Raymond Schwritz died last year. He was married to Jean for 35 years.

"I'd help him through the bad times. He'd helped me through the bad times. I don't have that anymore," she said.

Jean calls Raymond her soul mate. She said he joined the Marines to see the world and help build theirs.

"He was proud to be a Marine. He thought it built character and made a man a man," she said.

After one tour in Vietnam Raymond came home to Jean in Zumbro Falls. They started a family and life fell in to place. But as time went on Raymond started falling apart. He developed several problems including multiple sclerosis, depression and chronic pain. He sought help from the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center.

Jean said going to the VA was a mistake.

"I believe they murdered my husband," she said.

Last June Raymond drove to the couple's old home and set himself on fire in the garage. He was airlifted to Regions Hospital with burns to 65 percent of his body. He didn't survive. His death certificate says "suicide" but Jean blames the drugs doctors at the VA prescribed.

"He just got so distant. I didn't understand it. He was distant from me and he kept telling me he was sick and I said, 'well how are you sick?' and (he said) 'I don't know, I don't know,' and I should have paid more attention," Jean said.

A recent report from the VA Inspector General's Office dismisses the allegation but did find the care Raymond received was "deficient." Medical records show he attempted suicide once before and even told staff the easiest way to take care of all the problems would be to kill himself.

The report shows the hospital missed numerous opportunities to follow-up. The Minneapolis VA released a statement saying:

"Every Veteran's suicide is a tragedy and we appreciate the review....We will use this information to improve our system of flagging potential risks."

The VA is already hiring more mental health professionals, launched a crisis hotline and stepped up its suicide prevention programs.

But those procedures and the report don't ease the pain for Jean. She still believes Raymond's death was caused by the drugs.

"When I lost him I knew I'd be marching into battle. But all that mattered was the mission because I knew he was telling me that something wasn't right," she said.

The battle continues for Jean as she tries to change her husband's death certificate from suicide to homicide.

In the meantime, Congressman Tim Walz, whose office helped prompt the investigation into Raymond's death, said he has requested a meeting with the VA to follow up on the recommendations made in the Inspector General's report.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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