In February, a North Carolina man became one of the estimated 20 veterans in the United States who take their own lives each day.
Paul Shuping, 63, chose the parking garage of the Durham VA Medical Center for his final act of selflessness, using his family’s .22-caliber rifle to end his life.
Unfortunately, Shuping’s lifeless body inside his parked car was not discovered for six days after the Feb. 15 suicide.
The founder of a nonprofit organization called Vets to Vets was shocked upon learning of Shuping’s demise.
“I was devastated … we were all devastated when we heard what happened,” said Dr. Terry Morris, who built a friendship with the veteran after having introduced him to a program working with service dogs. “He seemed like he was thriving, and certain events happened recently that, kind of, took him in a downward spiral.”
Another individual who worked with Shuping was James Alston of Triangle Veterans Outreach Center.
Alston assisted the disabled veteran through two years of bureaucratic red tape at the VA before he was ultimately denied full disability benefits. He believes it was that decision that sent Shuping’s life into a tailspin.
“His biggest concern when he came in was financial,” he said, noting that Shuping’s final destination seemed calculated. “I really think he was trying to send a message for all veterans who are crying out for help.”
Alston’s sentiments fall in line with those of the victim’s brother, Donald Shuping, who is convinced the arduous process his brother endured fostered his sense of futility. He does not place blame for his brother’s death on the Durham VA hospital, however.
“To the VA’s benefit, I think he received excellent care,” he said.
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A spokeswoman for the hospital, Sharonda Pearson declined to comment on the reason behind the veteran’s body not being discovered for nearly a week. She did confirm that Shuping was found dead in his car at the hospital’s location “during one of our many daily patrols.”
“The loss of one veteran by suicide is one loss too many,” Pearson said in a statement. “This veteran volunteered many hours to our animal therapy program and was well known and beloved by Durham VA staff.”
Donald Shuping said his brother had suffered a 2013 injury, a bout with the virus MRSA, a coma, and a stroke which led to his becoming distraught and speaking of wanting to end his life.
The victim even admitted his feelings to a journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a Vets to Vets video production just weeks before his death.
Shuping shared the following in the video: “I actually found myself not wanting to live and had made a plan to commit suicide.” He also discussed his work helping other vets using service dogs and the sense of purpose this had given him.
VA crisis lines in the U.S. receive more than 200,000 calls a year, making it necessary to hire at least 60 additional intervention counselors this year to meet the demand.
Phone apps developed by the Pentagon and VA — with names like “T2 MoodTracker,” “PTSD Coach,” and “Breathe2Relax” — are also available to veterans, making options for getting help simpler and more accessible.
A “community partnership” is the key to swaying distraught vets away from taking their life, said Gary Cunha, a suicide prevention coordinator for the Durham VA. “Maybe they couldn’t find the meaning and purpose in their life, but I’ll do my level best to give their life meaning and purpose.”
Donald Shuping feels that all the intervention programs in the world might not have prevented his brother’s suicide, which appears to have been the result of fighting for benefits for too long compounded with health issues.
“Veterans find themselves disabled and lose whatever they have for care and end up fighting the government for years to get their benefits,” the victim’s brother said. “[I believe he wanted] to bring the light to the situation that so many veterans are in to get their rightful benefits.”
Paul Shuping’s memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 11, in Durham.
Service members and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA health care.
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