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Dad's plea for mental health care: 'Make VA go to the soldier'

  • Story Highlights
  • House committee hears testimony from parents of soldier who committed suicide
  • Father: VA mental health system "understaffed, under-funded, under-equipped"
  • VA says it's doing best it can, with more funding, new suicide prevention hotline
  • Members of Congress not convinced the VA made its case
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From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, there was an eruption of emotion on Capitol Hill for 23-year-old Army Specialist Tim Bowman -- an Illinois National Guardsman who completed a combat tour in Iraq, came home and killed himself.

Funding for veterans' mental health services is up, with more than $1 billion added to the budget since 2001.

His father, Mike, spoke of the agony. "As my family was preparing for a 2005 Thanksgiving meal, our son Timothy was lying on the floor, slowly bleeding to death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His war was now over, his demons were gone."

His parents Mike and Kim are on Capitol Hill to talk about what they believe is a crisis in mental health care for troubled veterans.

"When these veterans come home, they find an understaffed, under-funded, under-equipped VA mental health system that has so many challenges to get through it that many just give up trying," said Mike Bowman.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says that more than 100,000 of the 750,000 veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan have come to the VA with a mental health condition, and that the VA is doing the best it can.

Funding for mental health services is up, with more than $1 billion added to the budget since 2001. In July, the VA began a new nationwide suicide prevention hotline, which has already received more than 9,000 calls. There are more than 10,000 VA mental health staffers across the country.

But for young combat veterans, perhaps tormented and unable to cope, is it enough? Mike Bowman wants to know about the ones who, like his son, don't ask for help.

"Why isn't the VA sitting there when they get off the bus when they are coming home from Iraq? There's 118 guys coming off of three buses at the National Guard armory. Why don't they have somebody at that armory with a computer and desk registering them before they can go home? They are coming out of combat. You know they are going to need help. Sign them up right there; that way, you know where they are, who they are, and they are in the VA system right away. Don't make it so that the solider has to go to the VA; make the VA go to the soldier." Video Watch Mike Bowman speak out about his son »

Members of Congress were not convinced that the VA made its case.


"The message that I want to say is that we have an epidemic as has been said before, that we have a public health crisis. And no matter how hard you are working now, we are not doing the job. We need to do more," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-California, the committee chairman.

Tim's mother, Kim Bowman, wants her son remembered as more than a statistic. "Tim will never be realized for what he was, which was an excellent soldier. He'll always be remembered as a suicide." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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