A suicidal veteran presents to his VA hospital wanting help because he understands that he is at huge risk of harming himself. As set forth in the story from the Iowa City Press Citizen, he is turned away and then kills himself. This is a sad tale, but not a surprising one.
The press often gets things wrong and this is also only one side of the story. Over the years we have looked at many suicide cases, and we regularly receive calls from family members - with disturbing frequency in recent years. In my life as a defense lawyer, I defended doctors in more than a few of them. It is very hard even for very skilled mental health professionals to figure out who is at great and immediate risk of ending his or her own life and who is not. Studies have sometimes shown that suicide is almost impossible to predict. One of the things about medicine that is sometimes hard for us non-doctors to grasp is that a health care provider can do everything he or she is supposed to do and things still might not turn out well for the patient. That is often the situation with suicide cases – and in many other areas of medicine as well.
Regardless of what the findings are in the case relating to this Marine, his family and those close to him have suffered a loss that defies words. It’s heartbreaking. As sad as this story is, we as lawyers cannot undo the harm of medical malpractice. At best we can recover money for our clients – and often that can be a huge help to the families we represent. No amount of money, however, can fix the death of a loved one. In our business, this is something about which we always need to remind ourselves.
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