Randen Harvey was discharged from the Marines in November 2005 after serving two tours of duty in Iraq. Mr. Harvey returned home a shell of the person he once was—suffering from three psychiatric disabilities: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, and Polysubstance Abuse. All were the direct result of his military service.
Mr. Harvey only had a short homecoming. He was dead at age 24 by a self-administered drug overdose on June 15, 2006. The Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Medical Center (Ann Arbor VAMC) had both “the opportunity and duty to stop his impending death on two separate occasions and tragically, VA failed”, said Kristina Derro of the Northville, Michigan firm Fausone Bohn, LLP.
Since his return in November 2005, Mr. Harvey was on a downward spiral, trying desperately to get help. He kept trying to gain employment. Unfortunately, he left three different jobs after suffering panic attacks while at work and being too embarrassed to return. He withdrew and isolated himself from friends and family—he refused to join the family during holidays and special occasions, choosing instead to stay in his room, no matter how much the family begged him to join them.
Mr. Harvey entered the High Intensity Outpatient Treatment (HIOT) program at the Ann Arbor VAMC in May 2006. There he would receive treatment for substance abuse along with learning coping skills through both group and individual therapy.
While at HIOT, Mr. Harvey’s downward spiral culminated in two days of significant distress. On the night of June 11, 2006, he went to the Ann Arbor VAMC emergency department because he was suicidal and had a plan to jump off of a roof. Inexplicably, the VA staff failed to monitor Mr. Harvey. Two hours later he was found by VA police on the roof of the Ann Arbor VAMC. Mr. Harvey was brought back to the emergency department where he was seen by a psychiatrist. He denied to her that this was a suicide attempt. Instead of holding him for further evaluation, the psychiatrist kicked Mr. Harvey out of the program because he was drinking in violation of the rules. She told him to return the next morning to complete his discharge from the program.
Mr. Harvey returned to the program the following morning to be officially discharged from the HIOT program. He met with a VA social worker and nurse and during this meeting told both of them that he was suicidal that morning. The two staff members were concerned with Mr. Harvey’s comments that morning and the previous night’s events, and felt that he warranted further assessment by a VA psychiatrist.
Despite Mr. Harvey’s comments and actions, the VA psychiatrist did not even attempt to initiate involuntary commitment proceedings against Mr. Harvey. Instead the psychiatrist noted how poorly Mr. Harvey was functioning, noted the plethora of risk factors that he faced, and released him. The psychiatrist suggested that Mr. Harvey needed inpatient treatment but did not attempt to involuntarily commit him. This was the breach of the standard of care creating the medical malpractice according to the Estate’s attorney.
Three days later, Mr. Harvey was dead of a drug overdose.
The VA refused to acknowledge that Mr. Harvey’s death was a suicide because he did not leave a suicide note. Mr. Harvey’s family hired as an expert witness, Dr. John Pankiewicz, a well-known psychiatrist out of Wisconsin. He testified to the medical standard of care that the VA physicians breached. Dr. Pankiewicz has a private practice in both forensic and general psychiatry, where he has treated veterans of the Iraq War as part of his practice. He is also a clinical faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Pankiewicz, Board Certified in both psychiatry and forensic psychiatry explained that the majority of suicides do not leave notes behind, and frequently deny that previous suicide attempts are actual attempts.
Finally, on November 4, 2009, four days before trial was scheduled to start, the VA agreed to a settlement. Both sides agreed to a $218,500.00 settlement, as the recoverable damages were severely limited under Michigan’s state law on damages. Members of Mr. Harvey’s estate agreed to the settlement, because as his mother explained, “when you lose someone, there’s no sum of money that’s going to make it okay”, but added that she hoped a settlement “would change the course of things to come for soldiers coming home”. She stated, “I don’t want it to happen again”.
Fausone Bohn, LLP operates as Legal Help For Veterans, PLLC when assisting veterans. Legal Help For Veterans, PLLC is one of the top firms in the nation handling veterans’ administrative claims before VA. Thomas Campbell, Kristina Derro, and Jim Fausone handled the Harvey case. The attorneys, who between them had experience in medical malpractice, VA claims, and work in the mental health field, withstood the typical denials of the government.