Vet's Suicide in VA Hospital Parking Lot Brings New Scrutiny to Agency


The suicide of a 76-year-old former Navy man in the parking lot of a New York VA hospital where he was allegedly denied care has raised new questions about the federal agency, and his family and friends hope his death won't be in vain. Peter A. Kaisen, 76, of Islip, shot and killed himself outside the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he had been a patient.

"He went there for help with depression," said Thomas Farley, a friend of Kaisen's for 40 years. "That was his last hope, and he didn't get any help." "Maybe he can be used as an example to make things better," said Farley, who spoke on behalf of the family. "Maybe we can save someone else's life." "That way, he would not have died in vain," he said.

Kaisen served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1962, working on the USS Denebola, a ship that delivered refrigerated items and equipment to ships in the fleet, his friend said. According to Farley, Kaisen was severely injured in a car accident while working as an officer for the Long Beach Police Department in the late 60's. After that, he was disabled, Farley said, and "had been on constant medication since." The Suffolk County Police Department declined to comment on Kaisen's death. The FBI confirmed to on Thursday that the agency had investigated the death because it occurred on federal property, but said there was nothing criminal involved. An online obituary in Kaisen's name describes him as a "devoted husband, beloved father, grandfather, cherished friend and brother." Two sources connected to the hospital told the New York Times that Kaisen was upset he was unable to see an emergency-room physician for reasons related to his mental health. "He went to the E.R. and was denied service," one of the people, who currently works at the hospital, told the Times. "And then he went to his car and shot himself." "Someone dropped the ball," the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the paper. "They should not have turned him away." The hospital, meanwhile, reportedly said there was no indication Kaisen showed up at the E.R. prior to the incident. Hospital spokesman Christopher Goodman told the paper that "the employees here at Northport feel this loss deeply and extend their thoughts and prayers to all those impacted by this tragedy." Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who is on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and whose district is near the hospital, was trying to confirm the details of Kaisen's death, according to a spokeswoman.

The federal agency has been under fire for more than two years, following a stunning national review that revealed widespread corruption at facilities across the nation -- from rejected medical claims to delays in treatment and cover-ups by high-level officials. The review, by the Inspector General, was triggered when a whistle-blower revealed that as many as 40 veterans died waiting for as long as 21 months for care at a Phoenix facility. The whistle-blower claimed – and the review confirmed --  that officials cooked the books to hide the wait times and deaths so hospital executives could qualify for bonuses. Doctors and whistle-blowers from other VA hospitals came forward, citing long wait times and similar bookkeeping. A yearlong investigation by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., suggested that the number of veterans who died awaiting care or treatment over the past decade could top 1,000. Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May 2014 and was replaced by current VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

Farley described Kaisen as a devoted father and grandfather who never stopped caring for friends and family. "I'm a Vietnam vet -- disabled from Agent Orange -- and he was always looking out for me. He was such a faithful guy," Farley said. "He was such a big advocate for veterans and that's what makes it's so sad," he said. 

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