Veteran sets self on fire outside VA clinic

© Reuters
A veteran of Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf recently committed suicide by setting himself on fire in front of a Veterans Affairs health clinic in New Jersey. The 51-year-old had been treated there in the past.

Charles Richard Ingram III, a seven-year veteran of the US Navy, committed suicide by self-immolation on March 19 in front of the VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Northfield, New Jersey. A bystander attempted to extinguish the fire with blankets as firefighters arrived on the scene. Ingram ultimately died at Temple University Burn Center in Philadelphia later that night, according to the Daily Beast.

“I’ve seen people die before with complications associated with minor burns, but he was 100 percent burned,” Northfield assistant fire chief Lauren William Crooks told the Beast. “Gasoline burns extremely hot, so how he survived the short time that he did was in my opinion a little unbelievable, but people react in unpredictable ways to trauma.”

Ingram, a resident of nearby Egg Harbor Township, was survived by a wife and two young children. He served in the Navy from 1985 to 1992, according to his obituary in the Press of Atlantic City.

He was at sea throughout Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, serving as chief on the command ship USS La Salle when it became the first American war vessel to arrive at a liberated Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait, in March 1991.

The Northfield clinic is a branch of the VA Medical Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Such clinics are set up to serve veterans in locations away from hub hospitals. While they lack the medical or psychiatric specialists on staff, they offer in-depth "telehealth" or teleconference appointments to veterans, according to the Beast.

Self-immolation is a very uncommon means of suicide, usually associated with protest. The reason why Ingram may have decided to take his own life in such a manner remains unknown.

The suicide rate among recent US military veterans is about 50 percent higher than the non-military US population, or 29.5 per 100,000 vets, according to a study released in early 2015.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has endured a series of scandals and scathing criticism from lawmakers, veterans and whistleblowers over the lack of timeliness and the level of care it provides for veterans. Government inspectors found in September that the department had a massive backlog of nearly 900,000 healthcare applications waiting to be approved and that more than 300,000 veterans had died waiting for approval. According to the agency’s own figures, from 2008, of the 24.3 million total military veterans, only 8.5 million, or 36 percent, were receiving benefits and services.