MaryClaire Dale / Associated Press – 2008-10-09 08:47:11
PHILADELPHIA (October 8, 2008 ) — The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Administration hospital is suing the federal government for alleged negligence.
Tiera Woodward, 26, claims her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon, Pa., after three suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.
She says doctors were slow to diagnose her husband with major depression, and that once the diagnosis was made, a psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with her husband after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.
Donald Woodward killed himself in March 2006 at age 23.
“I intend to make them make changes,” said his mother, Lori Woodward. “I have too many friends whose kids are in Iraq. I have a nephew now in Iraq, in the same unit, and I can’t have my family go through this again.”
Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington, said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeks an unspecified amount for funeral expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.
It echoes other lawsuits nationwide over VA mental-health services, despite legislation President Bush signed in November ordering improvements.
The family of Marine Jeffrey Lucey, also 23, has a federal suit pending in Massachusetts over his June 2004 suicide. And two veterans groups sued the VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health, but a judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.
More than 150,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have already sought mental health care from the VA, and 200,000 others have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, one of the groups involved in the California lawsuit.
“Each tragic veteran suicide is yet another painful reminder of the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and VA’s abject failure to provide timely and appropriate mental health care,” said Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director. “How many wake-up calls does (the) VA need?”
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