Veteran’s suicide in VA parking lot highlights shortcomings of disability benefits process

Veterans are promised care in return for their service to our nation. However, many former service members struggle for years to get the financial support and benefits they deserve. The recent suicide of a 63-year-old Navy veteran is yet another tragic reminder that a lot more needs to be done.

Police from the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina discovered Paul Shuping’s body in his car in the hospital’s parking lot six days after he ended his life. Shuping committed suicide using a .22-caliber rifle after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied him full disability benefits due to a paperwork error.

“I really think he was trying to send a message for all veterans who are crying out for help,” said Triangle Veterans Outreach Center founder James Alston. Alston said he guided Shuping through a two-year process to apply for partial disability benefits. He described the overall process as “difficult” and said that although the VA system has improved, veterans are currently lacking the local support they need.

Shuping’s brother, Donald, described his brother’s emotional and financial struggles, as well as his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. “He tried to do things the right way, and it just didn’t work,” he said. Donald believes Shuping wanted to bring attention to the challenges veterans face when trying to obtain their rightful benefits. “Veterans … end up fighting the government for years to get their benefits,” he said.

The benefits process can be lengthy and frustrating. The VA estimates that 20 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. The agency has a crisis line for veterans with suicidal thoughts, as well as several apps that allow former service members to instantly get help whenever they need it. However, according to Alston, not enough help reaches veterans.