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Widow of veteran who died by suicide at VA Medical Center files wrongful death lawsuit

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Loved ones remember local veteran who took his own life at VA Medical Center (WPEC)

The widow of Sgt. Brieux Dash, a U.S. Army veteran who took his own life while inside VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach last year, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit focuses on the loss experienced by Emma Dash and what she's been through as a widow of three children after her husband's death.

Sgt. Dash was already at a high risk for suicide when he was involuntarily admitted to the VA hospital on March 11, 2019 after he tried to take his own life at home, according to the lawsuit. He had lost his job and was "facing financial ruin." His father-in-law recently passed away and his PTSD was exacerbated as he watched his wife grieve the loss of her father and struggle with the pain of Crohn's disease.

Sgt. Dash had developed PTSD after two deployments to Iraq.

Four days before he attempted suicide, he received a notice from the VA, saying he had been overpaid $19,857 in separation pay and his service connected disability payments were going to be withheld until the entire amount was repaid, according to the lawsuit. This was the "proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back" that sent Sgt. Dash into a downward spiral.

Emma Dash was working as a pharmacy technician at the VA Medical Center where her husband died, according to the lawsuit. She believed Unit 3C was the safest place for him to be treated and knew the people who treated him.

"It is tragic when one of our Nation’s Veterans commits death by suicide. But it is callous and contemptuous when the VA refuses to accept responsibility for their negligence and deliberate indifference toward patient safety. The emotional toll on the family members of a Veteran who dies by suicide is profound and irreversible," said Peter Bertling, Emma Dash's attorney.

Sgt. Dash committed suicide March 14, 2019 by hanging, hidden from observation by any mental health staff, the lawsuit states. His inpatient death was considered a "never event."

”Patient suicide, or attempted suicide resulting in serious disability, while being cared for in a healthcare facility is a ‘never event.’ Never events, as defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, are serious adverse events occurring in hospitals that are largely preventable and of concern to both the public and to health care providers.”

After his death, the VA Office of Inspector General immediately conducted an inspection of the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach, which identified "deficiencies" like several lapses in protocol by hospital staff, including security cameras that were out of work “for years.”

READ MORE: Report finds local VA leaders 'lacked awareness' ahead of veteran's suicide

"Brieux was a 33-year-old Army Veteran who survived two (2) tours of duty in Iraq," the lawsuit states. "Unfortunately, he could not survive the incompetent treatment he received from the VA for the moral injury, invisible injuries of war, and PTSD that drove him to death by suicide behind the closed door of room 235-1 on Unit 3C."

Emma Dash learned about her husband's death from a family member instead of a VA representative, according to the lawsuit. She was told her husband was responsible for his death "because he used his military training to manipulate the system."

She is seeking financial compensation for the "mental pain and suffering she's experienced," but the lawsuit doesn't specify exactly how much money.

“While I applaud any attempt by the VA and DOD to prevent deaths by suicide, these organizations need to be held accountable when they fail to follow their own suicide prevention policies and procedures; fail to properly train their staff regarding suicide prevention; fail to comply with applicable standards of care regarding suicide prevention; and fail to learn from their past mistakes. I will continue to hold the VA and DOD accountable for any death they could have prevented,” Bertling said in a statement. “When we make the decision to take these actions against the VA or DOD, it is always to find out what really happened and attempt to seek accountability and corrective action within the VA Healthcare system to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again. Our veterans and active-duty military deserve so much better.”