In a statement expressing condolences for Somers’s death, VA said that it “has made strong progress in the treatment of mental health disorders” in recent years, including hiring more than 1,600 mental health professionals in the past year, developing a suicide-prevention program to identify those at risk and bolstering its 24-hour Veterans Crisis Line. Over the past year, the Phoenix VA medical center has hired 32 mental health workers.
“Still, more must be done,” the department said.
During their meetings at VA headquarters and around Capitol Hill, Howard and Jean Somers carried papers outlining their son’s experiences.
“It just boggles the mind,” Howard Somers told two House Veterans’ Affairs Committee staff members sitting at a hearing-room table in the Cannon Office Building. No one disagreed.
The couple’s mission statement is simple: “No service member or veteran should suffer the wide range of fundamental deficiencies in needed and entitled services as Daniel suffered.”
Angel Roth sat behind Daniel Somers in seventh-grade history class in Chandler, Ariz. She thought he was the brightest kid in the school, and the sweetest. They married when they were 18.
In January 2003, nine days after his 20th birthday, he joined the California Army National Guard.
“He was looking for direction and a career,” Angel Somers recalled in an interview. “After 9/11, he really wanted to do something to make the world better.”
Assigned to military intelligence, Daniel Somers deployed to Iraq in 2004 with a military police company. He served as a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee, frequently exposed to roadside bombs and rocket attacks.
He returned home in February 2005 traumatized, his wife said. “He couldn’t sleep, and when he did, he’d wake up screaming.”
“I was called upon to employ deadly force on a regular basis — often in situations where non-combatants ended up in the crossfire,” he later wrote. “To this day, I am unable to provide even a rough approximation as to the number of civilian deaths in which I may be complicit.”
But he wanted to go back to Iraq, hoping to make amends, his wife said. He studied Arabic and volunteered to return in 2006 as an intelligence contractor.
Going back, however, just “made things worse,” Angel Somers said.
After coming home again in 2007, he channeled his energy — and his trauma — into music. He was the lead singer and guitarist for a Phoenix rock band called Lisa Savidge, writing songs that drew on his struggle with PTSD.
But his efforts to get adequate mental health care were less successful, family members said.
When he was admitted to the VA health system in February 2008, they said, he found that he could not make appointments over the phone but would be assigned a date and time by postcard.