A welcome compromise was reached Monday in federal court in Roanoke, Va., when prosecutors agreed that a Navy veteran of the Persian Gulf War who called a suicide hotline last year and threatened to kill himself with a homemade gun would not be prosecuted if he completes mandatory counseling.
The Washington Post story points out three elements of the case that have angered many, particularly veterans’ groups. First, what was the government doing prosecuting a veteran, Sean Duvall, who was reaching out for help — especially at a time when the government is at the same time urging combat veterans of all stripes, but especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder?
Second, the lead prosecutor, Timothy Heaphy, was the son-in-law of Veterans Affairs chief Eric Shinseki, who, as reporter Christian Davenport writes, is “an advocate for helping troubled veterans rather than punishing them.”
Most troubling, perhaps, is that the government went after Duvall, who was homeless, jobless and despondent over his father’s death, although he’d called a VA suicide hotline that he presumed was confidential.
Another government prosecutor explained Monday that authorities were concerned that Duvall, armed with the homemade handgun, had made the call from the campus of Virginia Tech, site of the 2007 shootings that left 33 dead and where he’d once worked part-time as a cook. He also has a criminal history, although it doesn’t include any charges of assault.
Heaphy, however, apparently had a change of heart after media reports on the case generated a highly negative response.
Under the agreement, Sean Duvall will be admitted to a state Veterans Treatment Court. The concept, akin to drug treatment courts, offers vets with war-related mental health conditions counseling and treatment alternatives in the context of a highly disciplined environment. Typically, charges are dismissed upon successful completion of the program. VTCs have caught on nationwide, and the Virginia VTC is the state’s first. Duvall’s case will be the first felony referred to that court.
It’s the sense that Duvall’s confidentiality was violated that seems to have drawn the most angry responses to the government’s response — even though it may have been the responding police officer’s report, not the hotline call itself, that resulted in the weapons charge.
One commenter under the Post story, “bluewhinge”, wrote, “It wasn’t the call to the hotline that was the problem, it was admitting that he had a weapon and was on the grounds of a university. But yeah, it was handled pretty stupidly. Imagine what it’s going to be like when we start adding discharged Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in, with the unemployment rate for vets already higher than the average. They’re bringing them home, but there aren’t any jobs for them.”
Thoughts? Should Duvall have been charged?