By Maryclaire Dale
The Associated PressPosted : Wednesday Oct 8, 2008 14:02:30 EDT
PHILADELPHIA — The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Affairs hospital has sued the federal government for negligence.
Tiera Woodward, 26, claims in her lawsuit that her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon after three failed suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.
She says doctors were slow to diagnose Donald with major depression. A psychiatrist diagnosed him Feb. 2, 2006, about a month before he died, the lawsuit states. But the psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with Donald after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.
Donald deployed to Iraq with the Army in March 2003 and saw five months of active combat. Upon his return, he got a job and enrolled in college, but by July 2005, his mother says, he had become “different, quiet and withdrawn.”
“I intend to make them make changes,” said Donald Woodward’s 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, D.C., said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.
Tiera Woodward filed the lawsuit only after the government failed to respond to her SF-95 form, a claim for death benefits that she filed Aug. 9, 2006. The claim was for $2 million.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensation for Donald Woodward's funeral and related expenses, loss of earnings and for 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 another 200,000 have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, veterans group that sued VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health. A judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.
“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 VA need?”
--submitted by Patti W00dard