Wife of soldier who died by suicide files lawsuit against West Palm Beach VA Medical Center
By JULIUS WHIGHAM II | Palm Beach Post | Published: December 1, 2020
Previous coverage: Family seeks damages after veteran's suicide inside VA mental health unit
RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The widow a U.S. Army veteran who died by suicide at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in 2019 has filed a wrongful death claim, saying the hospital failed to provide him with a place of safety and gave him "incompetent treatment" in the days before his death.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 23, seeks an undisclosed amount in damages on behalf of Emma Dash, the wife of of Sgt. Brieux Dash. It follows a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of his estate in August.
The new filing focused on Emma Dash's financial and emotional struggles since her husband's death. Brieux Dash killed himself by hanging on March 14, 2019, while under the VA Medical Center's care. He was involuntarily committed to the facility after a prior suicide attempt.
Dash, who lived near Palm Springs, died at the age of 33 and is survived by his wife and their three children. In the days after his death, family members told The Palm Beach Post that Dash suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
He served in the Army from about 2005 to about 2015 and twice had been stationed in Iraq, each time for about 18 months. His troubles surfaced when he returned home from those tours of duty, his family said.
"It is tragic when one of our nation’s veterans commits death by suicide," Peter Bertling, the attorney for Emma Dash, said in a prepared statement. "But it is callous and contemptuous when the VA refuses to accept responsibility for their negligence and deliberate indifference toward patient safety. The emotional toll on the family members of a Veteran who dies by suicide is profound and irreversible."
An investigation conducted by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs concluded that Dash "received reasonable care" from the hospital's medical staff. But it also found that several security cameras were not functioning properly in the unit where he died and that more than half of the employees working there had not completed required training.
The OIG report also said that staffing at the facility was sufficient on the day that Dash died, but noted that a nursing assistant assigned to conduct safety checks on patients performed other duties during that time, contrary to protocols.
While its staff was supposed to conduct 15-minute rounds for most patients, “it was possible to have a span exceeding 25 minutes when a patient was not visually observed by a staff member,” the report said.
Security cameras in the unit where Dash was housed had been out of operation for at least three years due to inadequate computer-network capabilities, according to report.
Multiple attempts to reach the VA Medical Center for comment on the lawsuit were unsuccessful. At the time of the OIG report, VA officials said action had been taken to address the watchdog's recommendations.
“While I applaud any attempt by the VA and DOD to prevent deaths by suicide, these organizations need to be held accountable when they fail to follow their own suicide-prevention policies and procedures," Bertling said.
Nationwide, more than 6,000 veterans killed themselves every year between 2005 and 2016, the most recent year for which VA statistics are available. The VA says any veteran in distress can call its crisis line any time at 800-273-8255.
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