Federal Government Settles VA Wrongful Death Lawsuit with Family of Iraq War Veteran who Committed Suicide

The federal government has settled a VA wrongful death lawsuit with the family of an Iraq war veteran who killed himself soon after he was denied mental health care. The family will receive $350,000.

Jeffrey Lucey was a corporal in the US Marines who was based in Iraq in 2003. When he came back to the United States, family members says he was having nightmares, behaving erratically, suffering from insomnia and serious depression, and drank a lot. The 23-year-old was involuntarily committed to a VA medical center’s psychiatric unit but was discharged from the hospital after four days following a diagnosis of mood swings and alcoholism.

Two days later, Lucey’s family readmitted him to the hospital after he crashed a car in an attempt to kill himself. He was turned away by a VA hospital nurse who failed to have a psychiatrist examine him.

Lucey hanged himself on June 22, 2004. His family filed their Veterans Affairs wrongful death lawsuit alleging medical malpractice against the United States. The Federal Tort Claims Act allows plaintiffs to file tort lawsuits, including those involving medical malpractice, against parties acting for the federal government.

Although the settlement has been reached, the Assistant US Attorney for the case says the VA is not admitting that it was responsible for Lucey’s suicide. The veteran’s death, however, has led to changes in how the VA medical system works with veterans and suicide prevention.

In 2007, A CBS News’ Investigative Unit found that from 1995 – 2007, almost 2,200 active duty service members killed themselves. The journalism also discovered that when it asked all 50 states for their suicide data for veterans and non-veterans, information sent back from 45 states showed that in 2005, 6,225 individuals who served in the armed forces were among those who committed suicide.

The Lucey family’s wrongful death lawsuit is not the first complaint filed against the federal government alleging that a VA hospital was negligent and therefore responsible for an Iraq war veteran’s suicide.

U.S. to pay $350,000 to family of Belchertown veteran who killed himself, MassLive, January 15, 2009
Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans, CBS News, November 13, 2007
Related Web Resources:

US Department of Veterans Affairs

Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), United States Department of Justice

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