Friend hopes veteran's death is 'catalyst for big change'

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) — U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is demanding that the Veterans Administration investigate the suicide of 32-year-old Iraq war veteran Curtis Gearhart.

Curtis Gearhart took his own life November 7 after the VA told him he would have to wait for help. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gearhart took his own life November 7 after the VA told him he would have to wait for help. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I know myself, a lot of our friends, his family members, tried to talk to him and help him the best we could,” said Aaron Ruter, a friend of Gearhart’s.

Friends said they are in disbelief and feel angry because Gearhart asked the VA for help days before he took his life.

“It's really unfortunate, I guess is the best way I can put it, that we don't have better healthcare or mental healthcare for the VA,” Ruter said.

The VA told Gearhart it would be weeks before they could see him

Ernst, an Iowa Republican, wrote a letter for the third time to the VA Inspector General demanding an investigation into why the VA was unable to provide care for Gearhart.

The letter said, in part, “I hope I make myself clear when I say I do not want to have to write to you again regarding the loss of yet another Iowa veteran who has died because they did not receive adequate care from the VA."

“Sometimes he would spend hours just trying to find the proper department or the proper people to speak to,” Ruter said.

Ruter created a GoFundMe page to raise money for a college fund for Gearhart's children. He is also working with local veterans to bring awareness to a cause called “Operation 23 to Zero.” Twenty-three veterans take their own lives each day.

“I think it's important to do what we can to get as much light shined on this issue, and hopefully all of this can be a catalyst for big change,” Ruter said.

Any veteran suffering from PTSD or in need of help finding resources can go to op23tozero.com.