Hampton VA Faulted For Not Following Up on Suicide Risk

Mar 2013

Today, there is grave concern about the high suicide rate among veterans driven by PTSD and other lasting mental and physical injuries caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, around 22 veterans each day died by suicide in 2010. Unfortunately, even with a lot of focus on improving mental healthcare for veterans to combat suicide, some VA hospitals and medical centers are falling short.

Suicide lawyer Skip Simpson was recently distressed to read in the Virginian Pilot about one medical center serving veterans in eastern Virginia and North Carolina that is failing suicidal veterans in important ways. Simpson believes that every returning vet deserves to get the help he or she needs to move on with his or her life and to resolve any physical or mental problems they face. When hospitals don’t provide adequate help to suicidal veterans, they need to be held accountable. There are clear safety rules which must be followed. We all learned as children when rules are violated there are consequences. If not there is no incentive to get proper training and for hospitals to provide adequate staff to protect patients at risk for suicide.

Hampton VA Medical Center Failing Patients

The Hampton VA Medical Center serves nearly 240,000 veterans in both eastern Virginia and the northeastern part of North Carolina. An estimated 300 patients a day seek help from the Hampton VA Medical Center, many of whom are at risk for suicide.

Unfortunately, a recent government inspection discovered that the Medical Center is not providing required follow-up care when discharging suicidal patients.

According to the policy set by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans who are at a high risk of dying by suicide must be evaluated at least weekly when they are discharged from the hospital. The weekly evaluations need to continue for a period of at least 30 days.

In order to ensure veterans get their follow-up evaluations, those who are at high risk of suicide are supposed to have four weekly appointments scheduled at the time they are discharged from the hospital. If the suicidal veterans fail to show up to their weekly appointments, they are supposed to receive follow-up telephone calls.When a patient cannot be reached and does not show up to his appointment, then the VA Medical Center is supposed to call the emergency contact. If the hospital cannot get in touch with the emergency contact and there is a reason to suspect that the veteran is not safe, a follow-up telephone call is supposed to be made to law enforcement.

Unfortunately, an investigation of Hampton Medical Center revealed that in four out of ten cases, discharged veterans were not getting this follow-up care. The investigation was conducted by the department’s Office of Inspector General.

Leaders at the Medical Center have conferred with the Office of the Inspector General and report that they have instituted corrective procedures in order to ensure they are in compliance with policy.

It is extremely important that the Medical Center actually follow up and take steps to ensure that these suicidal veterans are getting the help they need.  If they fail to provide appropriate care and a veteran commits suicide after leaving the facility, then the Medical Center may potentially be held legally accountable for the role it played in failing to protect the patient. This is just common sense and decency. These veterans protected us and we must protect them.

If you lost a loved  one to suicide, contact the Dallas Law Offices of Skip Simpson, dedicated to holding mental health counselors accountable. Call  214-618-8222.

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