A 63-year-old Navy veteran, Paul Shuping, ended his life in his parked car at the Durham Veteran Affairs Medical Center in North Carolina after the VA's recent decision to deny him full disability benefits.
Shuping drove to the VA in Durham on Feb. 15 and shot himself with an old family .22 caliber rifle, local NBC affiliate WRAL reported Monday. He was discovered in the parking garage six days later.
James Alston of Triangle Veterans Outreach Center told WRAL that Shuping picked the VA facility for a reason.
Alston helped Shuping fight the red tape at the VA for partial disability benefits, which took two years for Shuping to obtain. The VA had recently decided, however, to deny Shuping full benefits. Alston believes this decision could have led him to kill himself.
"His biggest concern when he came in was financial," Alston said. "I really think he was trying to send a message for all veterans who are crying out for help."
Paul's brother, Donald Shuping, said he does not blame the Durham VA hospital but thinks the VA's benefit process played a role.
"To the VA's benefit, I think he received excellent care," Donald Shuping said.
Dr. Terry Morris, the founder of the non-profit Vets to Vets, which matches military veterans with service dogs, became friends with Paul after pairing him with service dogs.
"I was devastated. We were all devastated when we heard what happened," Morris told WRLA. "He seemed like he was thriving, and certain events happened recently that kind of took him in a downward spiral."
Shuping was very involved in the Vets to Vets program and discussed his feelings regarding the program for a journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill weeks before his death.
"I actually found myself not wanting to live and had made a plan to commit suicide," Shuping said in the video, describing how service dogs gave him purpose. He used the program to help other veterans by matching them with canine companions.
Donald Shuping said his brother first discussed taking his life after a 2013 injury, a coma, a stroke, and a bout with MRSA.
A spokeswoman for the Durham VA, Sharonda Pearson, issued a statement on Paul Shuping's death but did not discuss why it took so long for him to be found.
"The loss of one veteran by suicide is one loss too many. This veteran volunteered many hours to our animal therapy program and was well known and beloved by Durham VA staff," Pearson said. She added that Shuping was found inside his car "during one of our many daily patrols."
The VA crisis line for veterans with suicidal thoughts receives over 200,000 calls a year, and it is estimated that 20 veterans commit suicide each day in the U.S.
"Veterans find themselves disabled and lose whatever they have for care and end up fighting the government for years to get their benefits," Donald Shuping told WRLA. "[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 in Durham.