Duvall grew up in a military family. His father was a retired Marine who served in the Vietnam War. His mother served in the Navy. His grandfather served during World War II.
He graduated from Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge in 1984, according to his Facebook page, and then attended Virginia Commonwealth University. He enlisted in the Navy in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, and was deployed to the Gulf and off the coast of Somalia. He received positive evaluations from superiors, one of whom called him “diligent and resourceful” and “a dedicated team player.” In 1995, Duvall was honorably discharged.
Duvall and Cargill declined to be interviewed for this article.
After his military career, Duvall worked various jobs, including a 10-year stint at a Roanoke steel plant. Then, in 2008, his father died, which “greatly affected him,” according to court records. He left his job at the plant and later another job at Virginia Tech, where he worked part-time as a cook.
Between 2006 and 2010, he was found guilty of several offenses, including public intoxication, driving while intoxicated and destruction of property. In 2010, he was treated for depression at a VA Hospital. And by June 2011, he was unemployed, behind on his bills and homeless.
For a week, the divorced father of two, who has salt-and-pepper hair and a thick mustache, wandered aimlessly around Blacksburg, thinking about ending his life. Some nights he slept outside an abandoned apartment building near Virginia Tech; sometimes he walked all night, according to court papers. He wrote a goodbye note to his family.
Just after midnight on June 8, he pulled out a VA handbook, found the number for the suicide hotline and called.
‘An act of courage’
In cases where there is an imminent threat, VA counselors have an obligation to notify law enforcement under agency regulations. But the VA has made efforts to keep veterans out of jail through the Veteran Justice Outreach Initiative, a program that began in 2009 and is designed “to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration among veterans.”
In a statement, VA spokesman Josh Taylor said veterans should have confidence in the crisis line: “Calling the Veterans Crisis Line is an act of courage, and VA crisis responders are there to provide help and save veterans’ lives.”
The hotline receives several hundred calls a day, although only a small percentage are from veterans in danger of hurting themselves or others.
At a budget hearing last week, Shinseki talked about the need to help struggling veterans, especially as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.
A VA spokesman said Shinseki was unavailable to comment on how he felt about his son-in-law’s office bringing the charges against Duvall. But when Heaphy was sworn in as U.S. attorney in 2009, Shinseki gave a short speech about public service and the calling to help veterans in need.
“Veterans for some unfortunate reason lead the country in homelessness, mental health problems, depression, substance abuse and suicides,” Shinseki said at the ceremony. His job is to figure out why and to help them “have a better outcome than they currently have.”
A judge in Roanoke is weighing whether to dismiss the charges against Duvall or to allow the case to proceed to trial. If that happens, veterans groups say they will pack the courtroom with uniformed veterans.
Meanwhile, Duvall is doing much better, according to the court file. He sees a counselor and a psychiatrist. He has a new job as a machine operator in a metal shop and a new apartment.
In a posting on his Facebook page in August, he told his friends about his progress.
“Thank god I’m making decent money again,” he wrote. “Last two years have been rough.”
Researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.
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