Frank Van Meter, the former Curry County veterans’ service officer running for county commissioner, was found dead early Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Sheriff’s officers were called to Van Meter’s Ophir home by another person shortly after midnight.
“I’m devastated,” said Sam Vitale, president of Vietnam Veterans chapter 757 in Brookings.
“He’s a veteran. Nobody knows what he’s been through and what he saw,” said Vitale, a friend who worked with Van Meter as a volunteer veterans’ service officer. “The county’s going to miss him and the veterans are going to miss him.”
As of Tuesday evening, the Pilot had not received information about a memorial service.
Van Meter, 53, filed as a candidate for county commissioner Position No. 2 on Dec. 15.
County Clerk Reneé Kolen said Van Meter’s name won’t appear on the May Primary Election ballot, following Oregon law about candidates who die before ballots are printed.
“It hurts every time a vet commits suicide,” Vitale said. “People in the United States don’t understand that 15 percent of suicides are from veterans in this country. I’m deeply hurt.”
Vitale said that Van Meter was on the board planning the Curry County Veterans Memorial.
“I saw him Thursday. He gave some good input. I just didn’t realize that something was bothering him,” Vitale said.
“My sympathy goes out to his family, his mother and two daughters and his girlfriend,” Vitale said. “It’s a real tragedy. It really is.”
Van Meter retired from the Army in 2000 following a 23-year career.
He came back to Oregon and enrolled in college, receiving a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Portland State University.
Then in 2005 he moved to Gold Beach and served as the Curry County Veterans Service Officer, serving in that position for most of the time until his retirement last Sept. 7.
In 2007, when Curry County commissioners considered cutting the position to half-time because of budget constraints, county veterans rushed to Van Meter’s defense.
One veteran told the commissioners that there is a 26-page application before a veteran is considered for benefits. Van Meter, he said, knew the ropes and helped veterans in need apply for those benefits.
The commissioners were told that Van Meter was able to cut the red tape for the veterans.
During a budget hearing in 2007, Van Meter said, “My goal is to keep the department whole and intact. I came here 21 months ago. I put together a program to bring this into existence. Now, it’s alive. I want to keep it there. I’m winding down on that two-year plan, moving toward the next year when it will be a great program.”
The county decided to keep Van Meter’s position full time.
Van Meter went to work for the state veterans affairs department in 2007, but when the Curry County job reopened a few months later, he applied and was hired again.
“I know at the end there he was not feeling well,” Vitale said of Van Meter.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. It’s nobody knows,” Vitale said.
“Frank was just himself, an intelligent person really. It’s nobody knows. I just have no answers, but something was bothering him for him to do this,” Vitale said. “He will be missed.”
Upon hearing of his friend’s death, U.S. veteran and Gold Beach resident Dennis Brown wrote an email to the Curry Coastal Pilot.
“Our friend has left a void in the life of his family and friends. ... A void in which I will be asking myself “what if” I could have helped more, done more, anything but this, for the rest of my life,” he wrote.
“My family and friends out there, please never feel that you are alone. Never feel that no one will care. Never feel that you have done nothing good in your life. Let your God decide what you have done, not man nor yourself.
“We will miss our dear friend and his laugh, crazy sense of humor and compassion to others. Frank, may God accept you and all the things you are, for he is a forgiving God. I love you my friend and will miss you.”