WEST HAVEN (Tribune News Service) — Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has asked the Department of Veterans Affairs’ watchdog agency to investigate the recent death of veteran Zachary Greenough, who was an inpatient at the VA’s West Haven Medical Center when, according to allegations, he may have overdosed on illegal drugs obtained while in the hospital.
“My staff has received allegations of reprehensible misconduct at West Haven that may have led to Mr. Greenough’s tragic death,” Blumenthal, ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, wrote in a Dec. 24 letter to VA Deputy Inspector General Linda A. Holiday, “I ask that you take immediate steps to investigate this death, and work with criminal authorities in their inquiries as well.”
Greenough, according to a friend and fellow veteran, was believed to be 29. He died late Dec. 22 or early Dec. 23 while checked into a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program at the VA, said the friend, Sean Dolan. Dolan said Greenough’s body was found with unspecified illegal drugs on him.
An employee of the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death was pending further study and that it would be weeks before a report is released.
West Haven VA spokeswoman Pamela Redmond confirmed that a patient in a PTSD program was found dead in one of the hospital’s bathrooms and said the matter was “currently under investigation.” While Dolan said Greenough had somehow managed to walk out of a locked ward before being found in a bathroom in another part of the hospital, Redmond said “that particular unit is not locked. It’s not considered a locked ward.”
Blumenthal told the New Haven Register before sending the letter to Holiday, “I can tell you that ... I am deeply disturbed about what I’ve heard concerning the circumstances of this tragic death and I will be asking for an immediate investigation; a formal, in-depth inquiry, probably by the inspector general in Washington, D.C.
“There are a number of very serious questions that I have ... a number of extraordinarily serious and profoundly serious questions ...: Blumenthal said. He said there is “a need for accountability as soon as possible, and I will be personally asking those questions and I will be directly demanding answers.”’
Redmond said the VA had notified the Office of the Inspector General on its own, which she said is standard operating procedure “when something is unusual” at the hospital.
According to Blumenthal’s letter to the Office of the Inspector General, “My staff has received information that Mr. Greenough obtained illegal drugs while living in a residential inpatient setting at the West Haven Campus,” Blumenthal wrote. “A full and immediate investigation is essential concerning the specifics of this incident as well as systemic issues regarding staffing and security. In addition, there should be a review by your office and mental health experts as to whether this type of residential inpatient facility was appropriate treatment under these circumstances.
“The very egregious factual allegations concerning this tragic death, while as yet unconfirmed, raise serious questions about access to drugs and other broader issue that may implicate policies and procedures at the VA,” Blumenthal wrote. “Any misuse or abuse of drugs, especially causing death to a veteran, is inexcusable.”
Dolan, a disabled veteran who served as an Army combat medic in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a full-time student at Gateway Community College. He said he met Greenough, who also had been an Army medic, over the summer in an in-patient PTSD program at the hospital, lost touch with him and then ran into him earlier this month at an outpatient clinic at the VA.
They got together a few days later, going to the Boulevard Flea Market in New Haven on Dec. 19, and “he seemed like he was having a really hard time of it,” Dolan said.
Dolan said patients are not supposed to leave the PTSD ward after a certain time of night and he believed Greenough’s death should have been “definitely preventable.”
According to Dolan, who said he spoke to Blumenthal’s office, Greenough grew up in Connecticut, his parents are both dead and his only close family is an aunt.
Dolan said he worried that Greenough would be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. “I want for him to get a proper burial and for the people who know him to be able to visit him,” he said.
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