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Veteran Suicides – A Final Protest on VA Hospital Campuses

In February of 2018, a 33-year-old Iraq Veteran and Marine Corps Trumpet player shot himself in the parking lot of his Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital. Justin Miller was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts when he checked himself into the VA hospital. He was looking for help. After spending four days in the VA mental-health facility, Miller walked out into the VA parking lot, where his truck was parked, and took his own life.

An investigation, lead by the Office of Inspector General, determined that the Minneapolis VA’s mental health unit failed to:
1.) Locate and schedule an outpatient follow-up appointment
2.) Engage his family with the treatment plan
3.) Inadequately documented his access to firearms
The investigation revealed that proper steps were not taken and that the documentation which was taken, contained inconsistent and even contradictory information.

A few days after Miller’s untimely death, a package was delivered to his parents’ doorstep by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. This package was filled with Miller’s, doctor prescribed, sleep aids and antidepressants.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Miller’s death was one of the 19 known suicides that took place on VA campuses between October 2017 and November 2018, of which seven occurred in parking lots. Even though studies indicate that each suicide is unique and complex, mental-health experts are deeply concerned that veterans may be taking their own lives on VA property as a desperate form of final protest, against a system that makes them feel helpless.

The VA has declined to comment on the individual cases, citing privacy concerns.

Studies show that the suicide rate for military veterans is 1.5 times higher than a civilian who has never served. The VA National Suicide Data Report revealed that in 2016, the veteran suicide rate was 26.1 per 100,000, compared with 17.4 per 100,000 for non-veteran adults.

Nine million people, which accounts for 62% of all veterans, depend on the VA’s hospital system. All too often veterans attempting to access this system find themselves troubled by the difficulties in navigating throughout the VA system. In order to receive VA benefits, Veterans must prove that their injuries are service connected. This requires mounds of paperwork and appeals, before they can even receive treatment for mental health issues like PTSD, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. Without treatment or even proper treatment, Veteran’s are left with little to no help in times they need it most.

Preventing suicide has been the current administration’s top clinical priority for veterans. In January of 2018, President Trump signed an executive order which allows all veterans, including those otherwise ineligible for VA care, to receive mental-health services during their first year after military service. This is a significant time period that is marked by a high risk for suicide, according to VA officials. Between October 2017 and November 2018, the VA recorded that their staff prevented 233 suicide attempts when they intervened to help veterans harming themselves on hospital grounds.

The Injured Veterans legal team at Gordon & Partners is here for military veterans and their families. Please contact us immediately, if you or your family are suffering from service connected medical conditions and you are not receiving the disability benefits to which you are entitled. Call us at 1-888-231-9144 or fill out the pop-up form on this website.

Read the whole story here:
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, THE PARKING LOT SUICIDES THE WASHINGTON POST (2019) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2019/02/07/feature/the-parking-lot-suicides/

Find the Review of Mental Health Care Unit here:
https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-18-02875-305.pdf