Peter Kaisen, the 76-year-old veteran found dead in the parking lot of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center this weekend, was a doting family man who enjoyed watching NASCAR on television and playing the role of grandfather.
“He was a family man,” his 51-year-old son-in-law Brian Henke told the Press in a phone interview Thursday. “Loved NASCAR, loved animals, [loved] his three daughters and seven grandchildren.”
“He was very good,” Henke said of his father-in-law, a retired police officer who was injured in the line of duty. “Very caring for his children and grandchildren.”
But as with many U.S. military veterans, Kaisen had his own struggles. He was a regular patient at the Northport VAMC, and the family believes Kaisen may have been suffering from depression, Henke said.
Kaisen’s last visit to the VA came this past weekend. He died in the parking lot of a hospital where many veterans like himself have sought much-needed help.
According to a report in The New York Times, two anonymous Northport VA hospital workers said Kaisen was turned away Sunday afternoon as he sought treatment at the medical center’s emergency room.
Kaisen then went outside to his car and, according to the report, committed suicide.
Asked whether the family has been in touch with the VA hospital in Northport, Henke said, “We haven’t talked to anybody.”
The family has no evidence to support the allegations from two anonymous sources quoted by the Times that Kaisen was turned away from the emergency room when he tried to seek treatment.
One anonymous source told the Times that Kaisen “went to the E.R. and was denied service.”
Another worker interviewed by the paper was critical of the Northport VAMC’s apparent handling of Kaisen’s case.
“Someone dropped the ball,” the hospital staffer was quoted as saying. “They should not have turned him away.”
The hospital released a statement through a spokesman Thursday afternoon that expressed sorrow for Kaisen’s demise but did not acknowledge the cause of death.
“The employees here at Northport feel this loss deeply and extend their thoughts and prayers to all those impacted by this tragedy,” the statement said. “We are committed to addressing the needs of all Veterans who are in crisis, and want Veterans and their loved ones to know we stand ready to help whenever possible.”
Suffolk County Police Acting Commissioner Justin Meyers said the department was alerted to the incident at 12:07 p.m. Kaisen’s lifeless body was found near his Toyota when officers arrived.
The FBI is now investigating the incident.
“He was a family man. Loved NASCAR, loved animals, [loved] his three daughters and seven grandchildren.”
Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) on Thursday wrote a joint letter to the heads of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner and the FBI demanding a thorough and transparent investigation.
“It is critical that our nation’s veterans feel they can trust the services provided by their VA medical facilities, and that their health and well-being is of the utmost priority,” the letter states. “This trust must extend not only to medical treatment provided in operating rooms and primary care facilities, but also to the mental health services provided by all VA facilities.
“We demand that the FBI conduct a thorough, expeditious and transparent investigation into this incident, and we demand that the VA is transparent and fully cooperative in every aspect of the FBI’s investigation,” it continues. “Only a thorough and transparent report on the cause of this incident will ensure that the VA maintains the confidence of our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has reached out to the Northport VA hospital’s director, according to his spokeswoman, but it was unclear if the congressman gleaned any new information from the conversation.
Kaisen’s tragic death has prompted an outpouring of support from veterans and civilians alike.
As for how Kaisen would have liked to be remembered, Henke said, “He didn’t want a lot known about him. He was a quiet person.”
Summing up how many people feel after hearing of Kaisen’s passing, Henke said, “We need better care for our U.S. veterans.”
Kaisen’s body, according to a funeral home’s posting, will be cremated.