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Widow suing VA after husband's suicide speaks out

Emma Dash remembers her husband Sgt.{ }Brieux Dash in an interview with CBS 12 News. (WPEC).{ }

Emma Dash and her three children are still grieving the death of U.S. Army Brieux Dash, who took his own life inside the West Palm Beach Veterans Administration Hospital in March 2019.

"[He was] the best father that anyone could ever hope for their kids," Emma Dash said of her husband. "Its still a shock, I mean its always going to be a shock."

The 33-year-old suffered from diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Dash's lawyer, Peter Bertling, told CBS12 News Veterans Administration records show Sgt. Dash told a VA doctor that he had been ambushed and beaten while in Iraq.

"The first deployment he came home and it was like nothing ever happened but the second deployment he came home a total different person," said Emma Dash, who recounted that her husband would guard the staircase in their home late at night or stack chairs in front of doors in the home to keep the family safe.

After two suicide attempts, Emma Dash called police to have her husband sent to the VA hospital for treatment, under Florida's Baker Act, which allows authorities or family to have someone committed for a three day phycological evaluation.

Emma Dash is a former employee of the West Palm Beach VA Hospital and picked it because she believed it would be where Sgt. Dash would be safest.

But he never came home from that hospital.

"He’s literally a veteran in a veterans hospital in a psych ward," she said. "I did not send him there to kill himself. I sent him there to get help and obviously I sent him to the wrong place."

In a legal claim against the federal government, the Dash family alleges that the VA failed to properly monitor Sgt. Dash by not frequently checking on his condition, ultimately allowing the veteran to barricade himself in his hospital room and commit suicide. Additionally, Bertling says the hospital failed to make contact with Emma to evaluate her husband's condition.

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

"They failed to monitor him like he had been ordered to be monitored. They were supposed to watch him every 15 minutes, they weren’t doing that," Bertling said.

The VA did not respond to CBS12 News' questions about Sgt. Dash's suicide, citing pending litigation.

An August 2019 report, authored by the VA Office of the Inspector General, found that hospital leadership "lacked awareness" about aspects of mental health care at the facility. It also found that "risk mitigation strategies" used in the hospital's mental health unit "could not reliably ensure patient safety."

The report also revealed that security cameras used for both law enforcement purposes and patient safety had not been operational on the mental health unit for "at least three years due to inadequate network capabilities."

The OIG established that Sgt. Dash was able to use the clothes he had on to take his own life during his fourth day in the hospital. Bertling and Emma Dash asked why he was allowed to wear clothes that could have been used in that function and not issued "suicide-resistant" garments in a mental health ward.

Emma Dash told CBS12 News she is fighting not just to get accountability from the VA but to keep other veterans safe.

"I got nothing from them. Zero. Nothing. Not even an apology. A legit apology. We had a meeting and they told me it was due to his military training was the reason he was able to pull this off in 15 minutes. That’s what I was told," she said. "I'm doing what I'm doing because I want to make a difference. I have all of his soldiers calling me. Everyone's scared to go to the VA."

Emma says she remembers her husband as a smart, family man, who gave the best advice.

JAY O'BRIEN: What do you think is the advice he would give you now?
EMMA DASH: To fight. He would want me to do this.