Welcome Back Warrior
Brian Callan marched into Bell Road Toyota shortly before noon on September 1 toting a 12-gauge shotgun.
Unhappy over a lease deal he'd signed the day before, Callan pointed his weapon at sales manager Nathan Smith, and told him to hang up the phone or he'd shoot. He ordered Smith to redo the deal.
Smith told the man with a gun that first he'd have to talk to his supervisor. Callan told him to do just that.
Moments earlier, Callan, unsuccessful at getting the lease contract reworked, had stormed out to his new 2001 Toyota Tacoma truck, retrieved the shotgun, fired it once into the ground, then returned with it to the showroom.
Phoenix police officer Geoff White and Sergeant Don Casey happened to be parked a few hundred yards away when Callan discharged his weapon. The pair and a third officer were in a parking lot next to Bell Road Toyota, questioning a woman about an accident that had just occurred a mile north.
It was a windy Sunday morning. White wondered at first if the bang had come from one of the balloons that salespeople had put up that Labor Day weekend trying to lure customers to the dealership, at 2020 West Bell.
But Sergeant Casey then saw two men run out of a building into the parking lot, gesturing frantically. He and White jumped into their patrol cars and drove into the dealership, leaving their suspect with the other officer at the scene.
"One of the men told me, He got a shotgun and he just went into the building,'" says Casey, an 18-year police veteran. "I now assumed that the bang had been a shot."
Casey parked about 50 feet from the entrance to the used-car building, as White pulled in closer to the entrance. Brian Callan exited the building just a few seconds after White parked his cruiser.
The officer saw a stocky, middle-aged man wearing a ball cap, sunglasses, blue jeans and black military-style boots. Then he saw the shotgun.
"I see the butt of the man's rifle, and I instantly come out of my car with my weapon drawn," White tells New Times. "All I have for protection is my driver's side door. I give him a command, Drop the weapon!' He points it toward his chest, says, They fucked me here,' and pulls the trigger. But it doesn't discharge -- he'd forgotten to rechamber the round after he fired it into the ground."
Though he's a rookie with the Phoenix Police Department, the 24-year-old White had worked for four years as a corrections officer at the Maricopa County Jail. During that time, he says, he'd negotiated successfully with more than one suicidal inmate.
But this was different. For one thing, the subject in front of White had the potential to kill others, not just himself.
"But the man never once pointed the weapon toward me or my sergeant, or I probably would have shot him," White continues. "I say, Hey, man, it's just a car. It's not worth it.' He goes, No, they fucked me here.' Then he pulled the trigger and died."
No more than a minute had passed since the officers entered Bell Road Toyota's property.
Afterward, investigators learned a bit about the man whose life had stopped so suddenly and strangely in the used-car lot.
Laurence Brian Callan II was 44 years old, and he lived in Tempe. He was an ex-Marine chief warrant officer with mental and physical infirmities that military authorities had deemed 100 percent connected to his 15 and a half years in the service.
In a pants pocket, the investigators found a laminated, typed list of the many medications Callan had been prescribed by his psychiatrist at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Medical Center. The list included drugs designed to moderate anger, depression, anxiety and other debilitating mental conditions.
Because Callan's death clearly was a suicide, homicide detectives wouldn't spend much time trying to assess his motivations. But his loved ones would do just that.
One of Callan's four brothers, Bob Callan, of Taos, New Mexico, had spoken to him the previous day during and after leasing the Toyota truck. Bob Callan says his brother expressed enormous reservation about the deal.
Callan's mother, Jerri Glover, says her son seemed pleased with the Tacoma and showed it off to her, but also was very concerned about how much he'd owe Bell Road Toyota at the end of the five-year lease if he chose to buy it.
That evening, Callan attended Arizona State University's home football game with longtime family friend Peggy Hutchens. Hutchens says Callan ruminated aloud all game long if leasing the truck had been the right way to go.
The day after the shooting, brief news accounts mentioned the unnamed guy who'd killed himself over a soured car deal. The tragedy then quickly faded from public memory. But more than 200 people attended Callan's memorial service at Carr Mortuary in Tempe, paying their respects and seeking answers.
An examination by New Times of Callan's military, medical and Veterans Affairs records, interviews with his family members, friends and others, reveals the following:
Brian Callan was a combat-tested veteran (Operation Desert Storm and Somalia) who had been diagnosed with a severe, well-documented case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. He badly needed and richly deserved the VA to provide him the individualized treatment that the American Psychiatric Association and other sources say is imperative in such cases.
But Callan hardly got the help he so desperately needed.
Instead, his VA doctors prescribed Callan a bevy of mood-altering drugs (and, importantly, not the best available ones), while offering little in the way of therapeutic counseling. Many studies have concluded that the combination of proper medication and counseling can help victims of PTSD cope with their loss of self-esteem, rage, and continued alienation from society.
But mental health advocates say Callan was handled in an inadequate manner that often is the case with veterans in similar straits.
VA officials insist that veterans these days generally are more satisfied than ever with the services they are provided. However, watchdog groups such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) say that vets who suffer from mental disabilities such as PTSD continue to get the short end of the VA stick.
"Special services for those diagnosed with PTSD have been cut to the point of virtual extinction in some [VA facilities]," says Ohio psychologist Dr. Fred Frese, a NAMI official who is a Vietnam vet himself.
A spokesperson for the Disabled American Veterans organization reaffirmed that viewpoint in testimony last June to a congressional committee in Washington, D.C. Said Joy Ilem, "Over the past five years, there has been a continuing erosion of specialized services for veterans suffering from severely disabling conditions [such as] PTSD, mental illness and substance-abuse disorders."
Brian Callan was in the small minority of those with severe PTSD in that, by all accounts, he didn't self-medicate his mental woes with alcohol or illegal drugs. Instead, he continued to seek a healthy way out of his misery until he died.
Just five days before he killed himself, Callan sent a letter to Dr. Kareen O'Brien of Tempe's Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Social Services.
"I have a proposal to make to you and your staff," Callan wrote. "As a 100 percent disabled veteran, the proposal is to treat me pro bono. It would be our goal to heal me, documenting this to the VA, and winning a contract to provide medical services to other disabled veterans. As you well know, the VA only treats the symptoms and not the ailment. I want to get better and heal, to become a functioning and contributing member of our society again."
Dr. O'Brien responded in writing on September 7 that he'd forwarded the proposal to the chief medical officer of the school's teaching clinic. He ended the letter, "Yours in Health."
But Brian Callan already was gone.
Brian Callan was far more than a troubled ex-jarhead who'd decided he'd had enough of this life.
He was a born leader who was highly educated, patriotic, inquisitive, flirtatious, considerate, funny, obsessively organized, idealistic and loyal. Callan also could be stubborn, rigid, hot-tempered, and intolerant of anything or anyone he perceived as mediocre.
Though his many letters to friends and officials demonstrate that he had come to deeply resent the way the Marine Corps had medically discharged him in 1997, Callan remained intensely proud of his service.
Callan often told family and friends that he considered his stint in the Marines to be the most meaningful thing he'd ever accomplished, even more in many ways than being a father to his two children, Cheryl and Michael, now in their early 20s.
The walls inside his impeccably kept home were covered with framed accounts of his many military accomplishments, combat-themed artwork and other Marine memorabilia. He had a Semper Fi front license plate and often wore something -- a tee shirt, a cap -- that spoke to his Corps affiliation. In a master bedroom closet, he'd hung a full set of his Marine Corps uniforms.
But Callan's distinguished military career long had been marred by increasing bouts of depression, starting even before he first went into combat during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Some of his despair stemmed from personal crises -- especially the breakup of two marriages and his mercurial relationships with his children.
But military doctors later determined that Callan's deteriorating mental state in the mid-1990s had been exacerbated by two difficult tours as a peacekeeper during the civil war in Somalia, first in 1993 and then in 1995.
Callan's increasing inability to cope with life after Somalia -- his incessant nightmares, inability to sleep, uncontrollable rages, recurrent feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide -- precisely fit the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition, Callan had been hurting physically since suffering a neck injury in Somalia while diving for cover from sniper fire in March 1995. That injury necessitated two major surgeries, one later that year and another last February.
The Marines issued Callan an honorable discharge in 1997, citing his continued depression. He then worked at a few civilian jobs, but lost them after he couldn't get along with his co-workers. For the last two years or so of his life, Callan was forced to survive solely on VA and social security benefits for his service-connected disabilities.
"You have to look hard at Brian's makeup in his last years, and how he felt about himself," says his father, Dr. Laurence Callan, a retired public-health professor and administrator who now lives in Honolulu. "Becoming a totally disabled veteran had to be a shattering blow to the strength and character he had put together to meet crisis after crisis in his life."
It was a turn of events that those who knew Brian Callan say they never would have expected.
Callan was born on June 11, 1958, the first of Larry and Jerri Callan's boys. Sean, Peter, Tim and Bob followed in that order -- five in five years. (The couple divorced in 1980.)
In 1972, the Callans took the extraordinary step of moving to the small town of Fort Defiance, Arizona, where Larry Callan had accepted a job as assistant director of the Navajo Health Authority. The Callans embraced life in Indian country, though many of the Native Americans weren't eager to accept this fair-skinned, Irish-American clan.
"You have to remember, this was during the height of the AIM [American Indian Movement], and resentment toward Anglos from my peers was very, very strong," says Ken Todakonzie, a Navajo who was one of Callan's best friends for almost 30 years.
"The Callan boys had an awful lot of fights at first. But I didn't feel that way towards him. I was a shy guy, and unconfident, and he encouraged me in a lot of areas, more like a big brother though we are the same age. By our sophomore year, Brian had everyone on our football team working as one unit. Everybody at school knew and liked him."
Callan later earned All-Conference honors as a tackle for the Window Rock High Fighting Scouts, playing on both offense and defense, and was co-captain in his senior year with his pal Todakonzie.
But Callan walked in circles other than athletics. He was elected student-body president as a senior in 1976, and Todakonzie says he developed a knack for being outspoken without getting in too much trouble with school officials.
Callan often spoke to Todakonzie about wanting to join the Marines after graduation, but ultimately decided to get more education so he might start at a higher rank.
To that end, Callan enrolled at Mesa Community College, where he matriculated for two years before transferring to ASU. There, he was a member of the ROTC program, and continued to go to school part-time for the next four years. (He later earned his bachelor's and master's degrees while in the Marines.)
Callan got married in June 1979 to Thelma Begaye, a Navajo from Window Rock. She was four months pregnant at the time. Years later, Callan learned for certain what he'd long suspected -- that he hadn't been the father of Thelma's first-born, Cheryl. But that never kept him from loving the child as if she'd been his own.
"He was my real father even if he wasn't my natural father," says Cheryl Callan, now a mother of two who lives in Flagstaff. "He called me his precious princess and that's how he treated me, even when I played my evil little stepdaughter games with him as a teenager."
In March 1982, Callan enlisted in the Corps and was assigned to the 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii, where he served for a time as a clerk in the Intelligence unit.
Hungry for action, Callan volunteered in May 1983 for duty with the Third Battalion, Third Marines, a unit then assigned as part of a "peacekeeping" force in Beirut, Lebanon. Later that year, he spent a few months in Beirut, and left shortly before a terrorist drove into the U.S. compound toting a 12,000-pound bomb, killing 242 Americans -- all but one of them a Marine.
The Marines promoted Callan to sergeant in May 1986, and assigned him to Twenty-Nine Palms, California. By now separated from Thelma, he took temporary custody of his two small children. His brother Peter helped him care for the kids for months during that time.
"It wasn't an easy time for Brian. I don't think any time as an adult was that easy time for him now that I think of it," says Peter Callan, who lives in Miami Beach, Florida. "He was pushing forward in the military, and was a lot more rigid in those days than he was in the last few years. But he loved those kids with everything he had in him."
Callan won another promotion in September 1989, this time to staff sergeant. But his personal life continued to be turbulent, and his divorce from Thelma was final in 1990.
Soon after that, Callan decided to resign from the Corps.
"Brian loved the Marines with all his heart, but he wanted to be near his two kids before they got too screwed up," says his brother Sean. "He always felt bad that he hadn't been able to be around them much when they were growing up."
But Thelma Callan appealed to a Navajo court to regain custody of her children and won her case. Her ex-husband would be allowed visitation with the kids, but that was all.
Brian Callan moved back to Tempe in 1991 and contemplated his future. Just three months after he returned to civilian life, Callan was watching television with his mother when word of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait flashed on the screen.
"He got right on the phone right there," Jerri Glover recalls, "and then he told me he had to help his buddies over there, help his country."
Callan volunteered to serve at no pay during Operation Desert Storm, an offer the Marine Corps quickly accepted. Within weeks, he was assigned as the intelligence chief for the 2nd Division, 30 Marines, in Saudi Arabia.
"He was a fierce warrior who you didn't want to be on the other side of in combat," says his brother Sean, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. "He loved the United States of America and he hated our enemies, and was willing to put it on the line for our freedoms."
On January 28, 1991, Callan wrote his mother from Saudi Arabia, articulating his thirst for enemy blood.
"I got to brief all the Marine generals here, plus the commandant. Since the Air War started, I have been targeting bad guys for bombing missions. That has been great fun, and I am very proud that I can bring death and destruction to these Iraq pigs.
"First, the more we can kill now, the less they will have to kill us. Second, these people came into Kuwait and raped every little boy, girl and woman. Then if you are captured, detained, they beat you, sodomize you and then ask you questions. So the more I can send to Allah sooner, the better. It's time to get it on!"
Callan was granted reassignment to a battalion that would be sure to see combat when the ground war started. At the end of that February, he was among the U.S. soldiers who invaded Iraq, then marched into Kuwait in early March.
Callan's abilities as a soldier did not go unnoticed by his superiors. One lieutenant wrote in recommending Callan for the Navy Commendation Medal in March 1991: "He is a non-commissioned officer of supreme drive and force. I would instantly request his presence in any tactical situation."
Callan won that medal, with a gold star, as well as many other commendations for his work during Desert Storm, Somalia, and other operations.
Callan reenlisted for active duty in June 1991. Soon after, another superior wrote of him: "This is a combat report. Staff Sergeant Callan worked without respite for weeks on end in order to ensure quality intelligence products use by senior Marine officers. Jovial sense of humor always broke tension in combat environment. A fearless Marine, highly motivated."
After Desert Storm, Callan attended a school for non-commissioned officers before being assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines as its intelligence chief.
He was about one year from his first tour of duty in Somalia, as part of an ill-fated mission that someone named Operation Restore Hope.
The U.S. involvement in Somalia during the early 1990s may have been well-intentioned -- feed the hungry and try to stabilize a nation being ruined by civil war. But before it ended abruptly in March 1995, 44 American soldiers had been killed, about 200 injured, and $2 billion in taxpayer money had been expended.
Somalia is best remembered for the October 1993 mission that cost the lives of 18 Americans in a firefight later memorialized in the book and movie Black Hawk Down. News crews taped jeering mobs dragging dead, mutilated American soldiers through the streets of the sprawling capital city of Mogadishu.
It didn't start that way on December 9, 1992, when 1,800 U.S. Marines landed on a Mogadishu beach to cheering Somalis. Their assignment: to lead a United Nations peacekeeping force in Operation Restore Hope, and to expedite humanitarian relief to millions of starving Somalis.
The end of the Cold War had meant disaster and civil war in Somalia, one of several African nations where it no longer was necessary for the superpowers to prop up corrupt regimes to keep their tactical presences in the region.
Thousands of civilians starved to death as rival Somali clans fought for supremacy, and many Americans, moved by television images of the emaciated population, wanted to help in some way. Before it was over, however, the U.S. experiment in do-goodism got run into the ground.
Brian Callan landed in Mogadishu as the intelligence chief for the 3rd Marine Division. He set up camp with hundreds of other soldiers in an abandoned soccer stadium there, and began five months of perilous peacekeeping.
The Marine wondered almost immediately what the U.S. was doing in Somalia. On January 17, 1993 -- five days after the first U.S. soldier was killed in action there -- he wrote to his mother:
"So what are we doing here? I am not sure. We are not a police force, nor are we a security force. What we are is a show of force and that's about it. We are only doing what we are allowed to do. We are doing the politically correct thing, not the right thing to do. We see beatings, robberies, hear of rapes and murders. We see blackmail extortion and blackmarkets. All day and all night. We are not allowed to interfere. We all know what the right thing is to do, but can't do it."
Nine days later, Marine Lance Corporal Anthony Botello was killed in a sniper attack. Botello's death crushed Callan, not only because he knew the 21-year-old soldier, but also because (he later wrote to family and friends) he'd failed to persuade a superior not to send anyone on patrol that day because of intelligence information he'd gotten.
In March 1993, Callan responded to his mother's concerns:
"You asked me if I thought any of the things I have been seeing over here will haunt me later on," he wrote. "Naaaah. Fuck this place. Ain't nothing but a thing. Ha ha. Over time it will be okay. Basically, I don't give a shit. That sounds terrible. But that is how I deal with it.
"The only time I have felt bad is on Monday we did this sweep of an area in the city, and this pleasant-looking young lady walked by. I said hello, and she smiled. Then she held out her hand. God, was it infected. I wanted to do something, but we aren't allowed to give first-aid unless we shot them, I tried to arrange transportation for her to one of the hospitals, but policy was we couldn't do it. I still feel bad about it. She had such pain in her eyes and hope in her eyes that we might help.
"Our corpsman said she would die in a couple of days if she didn't get to a hospital soon. I doubt she got to a hospital. That is how fucked up this place is."
Brian Callan's first tour of duty in Somalia lasted five months, during which the seeds of his future diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder firmly had been planted.
A new subcategory of PTSD has emerged in the aftermath of Somalia and other U.N. peacekeeping missions: Dubbed Peacekeepers' Acute Stress Syndrome, it refers to soldiers who are unable to cope with the impotence they had felt when confronted with violence and atrocities in places such as Somalia, but had been ordered not to do anything about it.
The syndrome shows itself in rage, depression, sleep deprivation and other PTSD-like symptoms.
Dr. Lars Weisaeth wrote of the phenomenon in a 1996 study: "Witnessing atrocities against civilians and without the opportunity to help, and being subjected to firing incidents without permission to return fire seem to represent especially severe traumas for the peacekeeper in contrast to the traditional combat soldier."
Dr. Brett Litz of the National Center for PTSD published a journal article on the subject in 1998. About one in four of the Somalia veterans he studied had reported clinically significant psychological distress -- particularly hostility and anger problems. About 10 percent of the Somalian peacekeepers met the criteria for full-blown PTSD.
Shortly after Callan left Somalia in May 1993, a superior recommended him for the Marine warrant officer program: "Bold, level-headed, well-read staff non-commissioned officer, Inspirational leader and dynamic teacher. Trustworthy, good-humored and immensely loyal."
Though Callan still seemed to be the epitome of the relentlessly tough Marine, things weren't going nearly so well inside his troubled mind.
Back in the U.S. for a few months after Somalia, Brian Callan married his second wife, Doris Leup, in July 1993. His next assignment took him to London, where he moved with Doris and -- in a turn that temporarily delighted him -- his two children.
But the new couple's honeymoon was painfully short, and Doris left Callan before the year ended. The children, then both in early adolescence, wound up back in Window Rock with their mother after Callan got transferred back to the States in 1994.
Callan had started to see a psychiatrist in London that fall of 1993 for stress, and later noted in writing to his superiors that he'd felt "a lot of anger and physically want[ed] to hurt things" at the time. But the psychotherapy wasn't helping him much.
"I am withdrawn, [have] difficulty in sleeping, rashes/itching, stomach, light-headedness, vertigo feelings, anxiety attacks (rapid heart beat, dizziness)," Callan wrote in 1994. "I want to scream and run away, but nowhere to go and to what end? Have attempted to bring my problems to some one's attention (admittedly, not vocal enough to commanders), but we are too busy' to take a time out.' Also, fear that this would destroy my career, so I keep most of it to myself. No one listens, no one helps."
By the end of 1994, the U.N. peacekeepers decided to leave Somalia once and for all. The Marines deployed Callan in November 1994 to the USS Belleau Wood off the shores of Somalia.
There, he awaited the onset of Operation United Shield, the last phase of the failed effort. The plan was for U.S. and Italian Marines to ensure safe retreat of the remaining U.N. personnel from the war-torn country.
On March 1, 1995, 2,100 Marines landed by sea in Mogadishu, and set up two cramped camps, one on Green Beach and the other overlooking the Mogadishu airport. Callan was stationed at the beach, serving in the intelligence section for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
He and the others were endangered for the next three days by infrequent but intense exchanges with Somali snipers, though news accounts later said no Marines were injured in the brief operation.
But during one exchange of gunfire, Callan later told his superiors, he'd hurt his neck while taking cover in a makeshift foxhole. He later said he hadn't known for several days how badly he'd hurt himself. But the damage to Callan's neck and upper spinal cord was so severe that he later had to undergo two major surgeries to repair it.
Seventy-three hours after coming ashore, the last Marines left Somalia.
In August 1995, the Marines promoted Callan to the rank of chief warrant officer. His joy was short-lived, however; the Marines soon decided to eliminate all warrant officers from the intelligence field. Callan didn't know what and where his next job would be, and expressed great concern in several letters to his loved ones.
Then Callan learned while stationed in Okinawa that his daughter, 15-year-old Cheryl, had given birth on September 22, 1995, to a baby girl, Seandeen. His mother says he hadn't even known she was pregnant.
"Another crushing blow to my hopes and dreams," he wrote a year or so later. "Now, I don't give a shit. Praying has helped, but not always. I am desperate."
On October 20, 1995, the Marines evacuated Brian Callan to San Diego after he requested hospitalization for his depression and suicidal thoughts. He stayed in a psychiatric ward there for 10 days, then was released with orders to take his prescription antidepressant drugs and to participate in group counseling.
The Marines placed Callan on a limited-duty roster for one year because of his mental problems.
By this time, doctors also had decided they needed to surgically repair Callan's neck, the injury he said he'd suffered in Somalia months earlier. He underwent the operation in December 1995, and began his rehabilitation at the San Diego home of his father, who was living there after retiring from the public health field.
"Brian talked a lot about his PTSD in those days, though they hadn't officially diagnosed it yet," recalls Larry Callan, a former Marine himself. "He told me he had run through a field of bodies, and had to do a shoulder roll into the dirt to avoid getting hit, and ended up with a hurt neck. I also know he was crushed when the Marines canceled his [job] after promoting him, which proves the overall stupidity of the military to take him out of intelligence, even after the broad range of his combat experience."
Though Brian Callan's military career was on hold, he tried to move his life forward. In 1996, he earned his master's degree in management from National University in La Jolla.
Despite his disappointment over his daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, he bonded instantly with his new granddaughter (and later, with her little sister, Bohazhonii). VA records from that time show he said he was taking his antidepressant drugs and, for a while, participated in group sessions on anger management and other mental health issues.
But in the spring of 1996, Callan's commanders gave him negative ratings because he had gained so much weight since arriving in San Diego. He also received low marks for his productivity in his light-duty assignment.
Callan responded that the poor ratings were unjustified: "I am stressed-out, burnt-out, pissed-off, fed-up, and tired. I have sacrificed every thing I have for the Marine Corps and have gotten nothing in return. At this point, there is nothing left to give -- the well is dry. I feel self-destructive, not so much physically, but certainly professionally/career wise. The thought of suicide has crossed my mind -- why go on, what is it all for? -- but not actually visualizing it. I need help."
On January 7, 1997, a Marine psychiatrist wrote of his session with Callan, "The patient reported that while in Somalia he saw numerous people killed and raped, and felt extremely helpless because he and other military personnel were not permitted to assist these civilians in distress. He felt horror at the experience as well. The patient appears to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic."
In July 1997, the Marines issued chief warrant officer Brian Callan an honorable discharge for depression.
Callan returned to Arizona after his discharge, and found work for about a year as a manager for a Scottsdale construction firm. But he had ongoing problems with his co-workers because of his acute mood swings, and lost his job in October 1998.
Callan then followed another management job to Richland, Washington, where he sought help for his continuing mental problems from a local VA clinic.
But that job also didn't work out, and Callan returned to Tempe in late 1999, defeated and depressed.
He'd become a permanently disabled vet during a sea change inside the VA, a colossal maze of programs and services that is drowning in federal tax dollars despite recent budget cuts.
In recommending sweeping changes at the VA in the mid-1990s, the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that the agency had been providing "uneven and uncertain access to care."
Some of those changes were implemented in 1996, when the VA split into 21 autonomous "little VAs," called Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs). Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas are covered by VISN 18, known locally as the Southwest Health Care Network. The agency serves more than 155,000 vets a year, with an annual budget of almost $750 million.
The new VA model sounded promising on paper: In part, it proposed shifting the emphasis of treating veterans from inpatient to less costly outpatient settings, and to provide easy access to community-based services for mentally ill vets.
But its detractors say that the new VA system never has served the mentally ill adequately. They say long waiting lists for specialized treatment, overworked clinicians, bureaucratic snafus and a managed-care-like emphasis on cutting costs continue to be VA hallmarks, in Arizona and elsewhere.
Beyond that, says NAMI's Fred Frese, VA psychiatrists rarely are able to provide mentally ill vets with the newest and most effective -- but more expensive -- medications. That would have profound implications for Brian Callan.
In late 1999, Callan met for the first time with Phoenix-based psychiatrist Dennis Grant and mental health nurse Kathleen Monroe. Over the next two and a half years, records show, Callan on average met every few months with the pair.
Typically, he first would spend 30 to 45 minutes in "individual supportive counseling" with Monroe, mostly a venting session for the ex-Marine. Then Callan routinely would spend just a few minutes with Dr. Grant, who also heads the Phoenix VA's PTSD clinic.
Like most public-sector psychiatrists, Grant serves far more as a dispenser and monitor of prescription medications to his patients than as a psychotherapist. And dispense to Callan he did.
But Grant's drug regimen for Callan largely ran counter to that recommended in a January 2002 article in the respected New England Journal of Medicine titled "Current Concepts -- Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome."
(The VA would not allow Grant to comment about his treatment of Brian Callan, even though Callan's mother says she told the psychiatrist that she and her family wished to waive confidentiality. "In the interest of patient care, we feel it is inappropriate for our physicians to provide any information in this regard," public affairs officer Paula Pedene wrote in response to a New Times interview request.)
For example, Grant continued to prescribe such drugs as Klonopin to Callan for anger management. The journal article stresses that Klonopin "should be avoided or used very judiciously in patients with PTSD." The journal adds that the drug works no better than a placebo pill in trying to steady a PTSD patient after a traumatic event.
Grant also prescribed an outdated but relatively inexpensive antidepressant with the brand name of Elavil. The doctor's daily dosage recommendation to Callan was only about a third of the usual therapeutic dose, according to two psychiatrists contacted by New Times.
And though Callan's daily dosage of Elavil wasn't large, the psychiatrists point out that the drug is known for flipping certain patients -- especially those with a propensity for sudden rages and the like -- from depression into a manic state.
Callan also was on Tegretol, an antiseizure medication also used for helping with mood swings and anger management. However, that drug is not designed to help those suffering from major depression, as Callan was.
It's also uncertain why Dr. Grant never did prescribe Zoloft or Paxil, the only drugs approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for treatment of PTSD.
The VA also provided Callan little in the way of real therapy. The recent New England Journal of Medicine article speaks of successes in treating PTSD victims who also suffer from major depression.
Any lasting improvement, the article notes, comes after intensive interpersonal and other therapies designed to promote a feeling of safety and support. The article also suggests that group therapy may also help disturbed vets better cope.
Callan didn't feel comfortable in groups, not unusual for those suffering from chronic PTSD, according to the literature. But he knew very well that he needed intensive therapy -- the one-on-one kind -- and he wasn't getting it.
Says his father, Laurence Callan, "One of the last observations Brian had with me was that every time he had a complaint, they would throw a pill at him, and that's about all the therapy he got. My son pulled the trigger out there. But I feel strongly that the VA has a lot to answer to for what happened to him."
Brian Callan spent much of his time after he moved back to Phoenix in constant battle with the VA over his disability payments, his diagnoses and, for much of 2001, why the agency kept postponing his scheduled second spinal-fusion surgery.
He also spent a lot of time with his young granddaughters up in Flagstaff, religiously attended ASU football games, read voraciously as always, and regularly e-mailed his devoted network of friends and family.
In April 2000, Callan drove to Fort Defiance to attend a memorial service for the father of his old friend Ken Todakonzie. During the service, Todakonzie recalls, Callan showed some of his old spunk.
"I was sitting in the back with Brian feeling really bad, and he nudged me. Hey, Toad, I heard the best place to pick up women is at weddings and funerals. You got to introduce me to all your aunts.' We just broke up laughing."
But those moments of levity became more fleeting, adds Todakonzie. "He told me about a year ago, Dude, I really feel like eating a bullet.' I was so worried about him, but I didn't know what to do."
Callan spent many hours in his last years with longtime family friend Jill Brooks, a Tempe single mother of two who is a supervisor at a local urgent-care center.
"He was a best friend to me and a lot of people, even though every day was a big struggle for him because of the PTSD," says Brooks, who adopted Callan's golden retriever, Angel, after he died. "He was a very, very thoughtful guy, and our conversations were a reality check for both of us. He'd mention to me about not being able to sleep some nights, about being easily agitated, raw emotions all the time. But he was nothing but kindhearted and loyal to me."
Brooks says she and Callan went to see Black Hawk Down months after it was released last year: "I said, You sure you want to see this? I don't want you to friggin' wig out on me.' He was stiff as a board watching it. There was stone silence in the car afterward. I told him that I had a totally different respect for him. To his dying day, all he wanted was respect from those around him."
In San Diego last February, Callan finally underwent the long-delayed second operation that stemmed from his Somalian peacekeeping injury. The rehabilitation promised to be long and taxing, and Callan decided to spend his second consecutive summer with brothers Bob and Tim in Taos, New Mexico.
In the previous summer of 2001, Callan had been able to work for Bob, who builds custom homes there. He let everyone know how much he'd enjoyed putting in a day's work, and how badly he wanted to be part of an unspecified brotherly business venture in the future.
But Callan was doing poorly as he prepared to travel to New Mexico for the summer. On May 16, he met for what turned out to be the final time with VA nurse Kathleen Monroe.
"I am so angry,'" Monroe later quoted Callan in a "progress note." "If it wasn't a problem, I would just go out and shoot everybody.'"
Curiously, she added in the very next sentence: "Denies wanting to hurt self or others. Is enraged, however, and is finding it difficult to cope with his anger."
That day, Dr. Grant doubled Callan's dosage of Tegretol for anger management, and added a new drug called Hydroxyzine -- a Benedryl-like medicine with a slightly sedating effect. The doctor's notes say he then told Callan he'd next see him in September.
"There was an underlying tone of depression all summer," recalls his brother Bob. "Brian was talking about different things with the VA, all the drugs he was on, about his life in general, and his frustration about not being able to work. At that point, he could not be a man in his own mind, but he kept trying to persevere, push uphill."
Callan returned to Phoenix on August 14, and enrolled in a real estate class at Mesa Community College. It started August 26, and Callan jotted personal notes to himself as he sat in the classroom that first day:
"Beginning: Heart racing. Very nervous. Stomach upset, headache, very tense. Want to run. People with cellphones on piss me off. End: Muscles tense, feeling very angry. Stressed."
Later that week, Callan planned to attend the ASU football team's first home game August 31 with longtime family friend Peggy Hutchens.
"Of course he wanted to go to the game," says Hutchens, who teaches at a Phoenix elementary school. "We always went to the first game together. Brian was the epitome of a Marine, and everything he did, he did with gusto. But he just could not produce at that point, and that was so hard for him."
The two made plans to get a bite to eat that Saturday night at a Tempe hot dog joint, then go to Sun Devil Stadium. But Callan had something else to do before the game.
Shortly after noon on August 31, Brian Callan drove 30 miles in his black 1994 Chevy S-10 Blazer to Bell Road Toyota. He was debating whether to trade in the Blazer for a Toyota truck he'd been looking at, a Tacoma four-door extra-cab.
Bob Callan says he got a call that day in Taos from his oldest brother, who told him he was at the dealership.
"He said at first that he didn't know if he wanted to buy, lease or do nothing at all," Bob Callan says. "We talked over the financial options for a little while, and I told him I'd be behind whatever he decided. Then he said he had to go because they were coming to talk to him."
Guides to buying or leasing automobiles suggest strongly not to seal any deals on the first day, and not to let a sales team know at first that you have a potential trade-in vehicle. Like many other consumers, however, Brian Callan had broken both rules.
That afternoon, Callan left the following voice message at his brother Bob's home:
"Hey, Bob, it's me. I just about got the vehicle. I've leased it. I don't know if it's a good deal. I got three days to change my mind, so hopefully I'll get to talk to you. I'm sure I'll get an earful from the rest of the family. Bye."
Bob Callan says he called his brother back within an hour. "He told me they'd talked him into the lease, and he was very apprehensive. He said the salesman had told him he had three days to change his mind. I don't know if he was confused on what they said, but he had the three-day thing clearly in his mind."
Unknown to many, however, the three-day "buyer's remorse" clause that Brian Callan surely was alluding to doesn't apply to buying or leasing automobiles in Arizona, according to W. Knox Ramsey, president of the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association.
"We helped pass a used-car law four years ago that says a consumer has 15 days or 500 miles to undo a deal for a car that turns out to be badly flawed," Ramsey says. "But it would be a chaotic situation in terms of commerce if we had a three-day buyer's remorse clause, believe me."
Callan drove his new truck home, attached an American flag to the rear passenger window, and called his mother to come by to take a look at it. Late that afternoon, he posed beside it for a picture, though Jerri Glover says he already was wondering aloud if he'd been taken to the cleaners.
That theme continued after Peggy Hutchens showed up at Callan's home. "He started in on it there, and continued throughout the night at dinner and at the game," Hutchens says. "He said it was going to cost him big time at the end of the lease. I said, I'm not so sure this sounds like a good deal. Why don't you try to change it?'"
He did so the following morning. At 9:35 a.m., according to a note on a yellow piece of paper that Callan wrote at his desk, he spoke on the phone to Bell Road Toyota general manager Robert Staup. The note said:
"Argumentative. Refuses to take back or renegotiate lease. States is no '3-day' cooling-off period state law where a person can return a vehicle."
Police reports, however, say Staup told Callan on the phone that he would change the five-year lease deal to a purchase, but he wouldn't renegotiate the previously agreed-upon price for the Tacoma -- $27,772.
As for the lease deal itself, four car sales executives tell New Times that, all things considered, it wasn't outrageously unfair to Callan.
"This customer probably wanted to get into lower monthly payments, and so they stuck him in a lease instead of a buy," one of the executives says. "That means he's going to pay on the back end -- $9,000 in this case -- on top of all those payments if he wants to buy the vehicle for some reason at the end of the term. He probably thought that was the raw end of the deal for him."
Adds another, "Did this guy really think that Bell Road would rip up the paperwork and give him his old car back? He didn't sign the deal at gunpoint, did he?"
But that's just how Brian Callan would try to undo the deal.
At about 11:30, Callan drove into the dealership in his shiny white truck. He parked it, and walked into Bell Road Toyota's used-car building.
He met with sales manager Nathan Smith and sales supervisor Rafael Ung -- the latter had sealed the lease deal the day before. The pair later told police that Callan said he wanted to return the vehicle or, in the alternative, change the lease to a purchase.
But the salesmen admitted they'd told Callan directly that Toyota wasn't legally bound to change a thing. Another salesman, Matthew Duran, told investigators he'd overheard the dialogue.
Duran told police: "[Callan] stated, I want to renegotiate the deal or buy the truck for $19,000.' Duran said [Smith] told the subject, I can't do that. We could work something out.' [Callan] then said, I'm gonna give you one more chance.' [Smith] again told him, I can't do that. I can't do that.'"
Callan then had told the salesmen something akin to, "Okay. I'll do things on my terms," threw down his car keys on a counter, and left the building.
A security camera caught Callan on tape going into the truck and retrieving his shotgun. He discharged the shot into a grass island, then quickly returned to the building, weapon in hand.
Callan died less than a minute later.
"My brother was a warrior, a trained killer," says Bob Callan. "He knew the meaning of pulling out a gun. You don't pull out a gun unless you intend to use it. He did it because of the total disrespect he got from those pigs at the dealership, and their total greed. But even in the field of battle, where he was at that time, he did not want to kill those people."
His brother Sean, however, sees it a bit differently: "Yes, he was disrespected, but I don't think he went there with the intention of taking anyone's life, including his own. But he knew he couldn't face those officers -- who were just doing their jobs. I think he died as a result of an incident in which he suddenly didn't see any options."
Officer Geoff White notes that Callan had attached his military ID dog tags to one of the bootlaces he was wearing when he died. That has led police to conclude that the ex-Marine probably had gone to Bell Road Toyota primed for a violent clash.
But many of Callan's longtime friends say he always wore the dog tags with those boots.
Sean Callan says he spoke a few days after the tragedy to Dr. Dennis Grant, Brian Callan's psychiatrist at the VA. He says Grant told him he was "shocked" by the suicide, and that Callan had been a topnotch soldier in whom he should have great pride.
Brian Callan was given a military funeral at the Cave Creek National Veterans Cemetery. The many medals and ribbons he'd earned as a United States Marine were buried with him.
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