Department of Justice pays $900,000 in Suicide Case From Salem VA Hospital

Department of Justice pays $900,000 in Suicide Case From Salem VA Hospital

Department of Justice pays $900,000 in Suicide Case From Salem VA Hospital 1200 800 Bo Frith

Negligent Medical Care Leads to Veteran Suicide

The Roanoke Times covered this case in an article linked here.

Decedent was a 62-year-old Air Force veteran who served in the military for over two decades. She retired in 2000 and since then served as the live-in caretaker for her elderly mother. Decedent received care from the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital for many years, including treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

In early spring of 2022, a VA suicide prevention specialist spoke with Decedent who was enduring a depressive episode. While Decedent did not want to come in to the VA hospital, the prevention specialist successfully convinced her to receive inpatient treatment. The same day as their conversation, Decedent checked herself into the Salem VA hospital for mental health treatment.

In the emergency room, staff noted Decedent had significant mental health issues. She had prior diagnoses of chronic recurrent major depressive disorder, anxiety, and severe mixed bipolar disorder. Decedent’s chief complaint was of suffering from increased depression due to the medications she took not working properly. VA staff admitted Decedent for inpatient psychiatric treatment.

Upon admission to the psychiatric unit, VA staff wrote decedent’s mood was a one-out-of-ten (with one being the lowest) and her anxiety a ten-out-of-ten (with ten being the highest). Intake records noted Decedent was previously inpatient at the very same VA hospital only months prior for a previous suicide attempt.

Defendants in the case were a VA psychiatrist and VA resident. On the second day of inpatient treatment, defendant psychiatrist significantly altered Decedent’s medications. Not only were the medications changed, the medications ordered were of the wrong dosage. Defendant resident discharged Decedent only hours after the significant medication change and without a suicide prevention plan, despite knowing of Decedent’s use of a handgun in a previous suicide attempt and despite clear warnings from the VA suicide prevention specialist who feared the patient would act soon.

Predictably, and mere hours after discharge, Decedent ended her own life via gunshot to the head.

At the time of her death, Decedent was survived by her mother, a brother who lived nearby, and an out-of-state brother. After her death, but before approval of the wrongful death settlement, both the elderly mother and nearby brother died, leaving only the out-of-state brother as a statutory beneficiary.

Her family hopes their loss will be a wake-up call for the Salem VA Hospital and a nation that fails to appreciate the significant trauma suffered by our veterans.

The case settled for $900,000.00.

Frith & Ellerman Law Firm represents individuals and families who received negligent medical care that caused permanent injury, including cases against the Salem VA.

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