Congressmen call for investigation after vet's suicide

February 9, 2011 7:55:43 PM PST
Two congressmen are looking into the tragic death of a mentally ill veteran after an I-Team investigation. William Hamilton stepped in front of a train after a military hospital discharged him against the wishes of his parents. The congressmen the I-Team spoke to said it never should have happened.

"David Grant made a mistake here, a deadly mistake," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, said.

Garamendi says Hamilton, an Iraq War veteran, deserved better than the treatment he got at California's military and VA hospitals.

Dan Noyes: "What duty do we owe to our service men and women who are returning from war?"

Garamendi: "We owe them the highest duty. These are the men and women that we've sent into harm's way."

Hamilton was guarding this rooftop in Mosul in 2005 when insurgents attacked, killing his best friend, Christopher Pusateri. Back home, Hamilton was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and schizoaffective disorder.

"He was tormented by it," Hamilton's mother Diane said. "When he first came home he didn't sleep. I could hear him crying at night."

Hamilton was hospitalized nine times at the Palo Alto VA hospital. But when he was taken to a county hospital last May in a psychotic state, staff wrote that they "attempted to contact [the Palo Alto] VA" but were told "they do not start transfers this late in the day."

Dan Noyes: "Is there any way that a VA hospital should turn away a service man because it's too late in the day?"

Garamendi: "No way, no way. That's unacceptable. I'm sure that there will be some discipline and certainly a change in policy as a result of that."

Hospital staff attempted admits at three VA hospitals before they finally found Hamilton a bed at David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base. His parents asked the hospital to keep him for two weeks, but they discharged him after just three days. The same night he was discharged Hamilton stepped in front of a train.

"The only reason that they knew anything is because he had a band from David Grant still on his arm," Diane Hamilton said.

"This is not just something that's happening here in our region, it's happening all over the country," Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said. "Veterans come back. They don't get the treatment they need, they're in trouble and they end up committing suicide. That's something that we cannot tolerate."

McNerney is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. After watching the I-Team report, he says he will ask the committee to look into Hamilton's case.

"Is there a pattern of abuse here? Is there a pattern of neglect? Is there something that we can do?" McNerney asked.

Paul Sullivan is executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. The group is suing the VA for turning away suicidal vets.

"The very problem that we sued VA over in 2007 is still happening," Sullivan said.

The case is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Sullivan says Hamilton's case is a reminder that veteran suicide is a problem that's not going to go away.

"The message to VA is, 'make sure you are ready when our veterans show up so that cases like WIlliam Hamilton do not happen again,'" Sullivan said.

Veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts should call the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline, any time of the day or night, at 1800-273-TALK.