Two veterans who killed themselves at the same VA facility less than a year apart both sat with their medical records at the place where they took their own lives.
The most recent suicide of a Vietnam veteran at the Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Fla. shared a peculiar similarity with a Marine officer’s December 2018 suicide near the same Bay Pines VA facility. According to the Washington Examiner, both veterans were found sitting on their medical records when their bodies were discovered.
The most recent suicide incident on Oct. 7 is the sixth at the Bay Pines VA facility in as many years. The incident is also the 35th suicide on VA grounds in the last two years.
“My father-in-law who was a Navy Vet with 3 tours in Vietnam as a radioman for Marine units took his own life yesterday,” Doug Morgan said in a Facebook post revealing his father’s death. “He did it at the Bay Pines VA cemetery while sitting on his medical records. Rest in Peace Mark.”
That this veteran, identified only as “Mark,” died sitting on his medical records may be a cause for suspicion among investigators as retired Marine Corps Col. James Turner took his own life in a similar display on Dec. 19, 2018.
Turner reportedly donned his Marine Corps dress blue uniform, drove to a pier near the Bay Pines grounds and killed himself with a rifle. He was found sitting on both his military service records and his medical records. Turner texted his son prior to the act and criticized the VA in a suicide note found at the scene.
“I bet if you look at the 22 suicides a day you will see VA screwed up in 90%. I did 20+ years, had PTSD and still had to pay over $1,000 a month health care,” the suicide letter said.
Turner had flown F-18 Hornet fighter jets for the Marine Corps before serving as an Infantry officer in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served for a decade at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida before retiring from service in 2015.
The Marine Colonel, who had also recently separated from his wife, had gone through struggles after retiring from the military.
“Something definitely changed in him. Just his anger and rage was crazy,” his ex-wife Jennifer told Washington Examiner.
She believed Turner had reached a limit while awaiting help from the VA and that in his death he meant to send a message about insufficient suicide prevention efforts.
Beyond the 35 fatal suicide attempts in the past two years, 466 suicide attempts have occurred at VA facilities since the start of 2018. VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci told the Washington Examiner that 89 percent of those suicide attempts were interrupted.
“Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority, and the department is taking significant steps to address the issue,” Mandreucci said.
Beyond suicide concerns, the VA has also seen persistent medical malpractice concerns. In September a federal court found the VA had tried to avoid reimbursing veterans who sought emergency treatment at non-VA facilities. The ruling may compel the VA to pay up to $6.5 billion in medical reimbursements.