The family of veteran Richard Miles, who killed himself after visiting a Veterans Affairs hospital in February, tells CNN that an Office of Inspector General report exonerating the VA of any poor judgments in his case a “whitewash.”
“I would definitely use the term whitewash,” Katie Hopper, Miles’ friend and the mother of his daughter, said of the report. “I feel like it was given to a legal team to make sure it sounded legally correct.”
Miles, 40, was a veteran of the war in Iraq who was hospitalized several times over the years after suicide attempts and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress.
On Feb. 15, after disappearing from his job for several days, Miles entered a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, and told the staff: “I need help,” according to hospital records obtained by CNN.
As CNN covered in March, Miles had told Hopper and another friend, Harry Aller, that he was going to check himself in at the VA. At the ER, he was diagnosed with “worsened PTSD,” anxiety and insomnia, but he was not admitted to the hospital. Five days later he was found dead in the woods, having died from exposure to the elements after having taken a toxic amount of sleeping pills, according to a toxicology report obtained by CNN.
The inspector general report states: “We did not substantiate the allegation that the patient had been denied long term mental health services at the time of a winter 2015 Emergency Department visit. We found no documentation that the patient had requested these services or that his clinical condition would have warranted admission at the time of his presentation.”
“I don’t feel like they really looked at the record of his last visit and the things that he said,” Hopper said.
Among her main issues with the report:
· That Miles said “I need help” when he came to the ER is not mentioned in the VA inspector general report.
· That he had been missing for several days – a fact in his VA records, given that his employer had called to see if he was there – is not mentioned as a factor that might suggest his case get additional consideration.
· That Miles was not offered an opportunity to immediately consult with a mental health professional is not considered a problem. “The initial 24-hour evaluation does not have to be conducted by a mental health professional,” the report states.
· Miles had been told that a mental health professional would call him the week after next, about which the IG report states: “The facility appeared to be substantially in compliance with its policy regarding time frames for consult completion,” which is 14 days.
“They said they were following policy,” said Hopper, “but the policy was wrong and they should have been more human about it.”
Added Aller, “Time is critical when a veteran with PTSD reaches out for help – 7, 30 or 45 days is too much time to let a man or woman deal with unimaginable thoughts.”
Medical records state that Miles told the doctor on call that he was not suicidal, and the doctor – a specialist in sports and emergency room medicine – wrote him a prescription, the same one Miles is believed to have used to kill himself.
As CNN previously reported about three hours after Miles told Hopper he was checking himself into the VA, he showed up back at her house, where he was staying.
“I thought you were going to be days or weeks even,” she recalled saying to him. “He said, ‘Yeah, me too, but they just gave me medication and sent me home, said my psychiatrist would follow up with me this week to set up an appointment,’” she said.
The Iraq war veteran did not make it that long. After giving his daughter Emmalynn a big hug goodbye, he walked into a woods where he and Hopper used to walk and never came back.
Said his friend Aller, “While I was not with Richard that day in the ER, I find it hard to believe he did not ask for in-patient care. All communication leading up to his visit said he planned to spend time at the hospital. Only the ER physician and Richard know what truly happened during that visit and unfortunately Richard is not with us anymore.”
“I am not looking to blame someone for Richard’s death and in my heart believe the physicians at the VA are good working men and women,” Aller said. “I simply want changes in policy to assist other veterans - ultimately decreasing the number of veteran suicides from 22 a day to zero.”
The IG report did make two suggestions. Miles, who had Post Traumatic Stress and had attempted suicide, was not considered to have had a “serious mental illness,” such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Thus the VA did not follow up as aggressively with him as they could have. The IG suggests that the Interim Under Secretary for Health “determine the feasibility and advisability of expanding recovery coordination activities to patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Said Aller, “It’s devastating to see that the VA does not consider PTSD to be a ‘serious mental illness.’”
The IG report also recommended that the VA make sure that the VA Central Iowa Health Care System Director “provides all levels of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom case management services in accordance with Veterans Health Administration policy.
Hopper says that their daughter Emmalynn has been doing ok after her father’s passing, but “she has moments where she just misses him - she sees her friends with their Daddies and she snuggles me and cries because her Daddy is gone. Whenever she makes a wish in a fountain or blowing out candles, she wishes for her Daddy to come back or for a new Daddy. We have adjusted to a ‘new normal,’ but that contains pieces that will always be missing.”