A pair of New York lawmakers are demanding answers after a veteran committed suicide in the parking lot of a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital on Long Island earlier this week.
Peter Kaisen, a 76-year-old who lived just a short drive from the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, killed himself Sunday. Two facility workers told the New York Times earlier this week that the man had been turned away from the hospital's emergency room while seeking care, but hospital officials have said they have not found any record of that incident.
In a statement, medical center director Philip Moschitta said they will cooperate in any investigation of the death but "at no point did the staff in this facility fail to do the right thing by our patients."
It could not be immediately determined in which branch of service Kaisen served.
"It is critical that our nation's veterans feel they can trust the services provided by their VA medical facilities, and that their health and well-being is of the utmost priority," the pair wrote. "This trust must extend not only to medical treatment provided in operating rooms and primary care facilities, but also to the mental health services provided by all VA facilities.
"Mental health treatment is critical to the overall health of our veterans, and every effort must be made to provide for their needs."
VA emergency room care and mental health response have received extra scrutiny in recent years since scandals surrounding veterans wait times for medical care forced the resignation of former department Secretary Eric Shinseki in 2014.
Lawmakers have questioned whether front-line hospital staffers are adequately trained and prepared for initial contact with veterans suffering a mental or emotional trauma. In addition, the VA Inspector General's Office found that calls to the Veterans Crisis Line in fiscal 2014 were transferred to voicemail instead of being routed to immediate response.
VA officials have spent much of the last few years bolstering their mental health care staff and training, and have publicly pledged to continue to make that work a priority.
Neither King nor Israel blame the local VA hospital staff for Kaisen’s suicide in the letter, but they state that "only a thorough and transparent report on the cause of this incident will ensure that the VA maintains the confidence of our veterans."
Roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, according to data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this summer. About 65 percent of those are individuals 50 years or older.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.