A Long Island military veteran committed suicide Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center after allegedly being denied service, according to a report in The New York Times.
The veteran was identified as Peter Kaisen of Islip. He was 76 years old.
The Times, which was the first to report the story of his apparent suicide, quoted an anonymous hospital worker who claimed Kaisen “went to the E.R. and was denied service.”
“And then he went to his car and shot himself,” the Northport VA worker told the Times.
According to the report, “[Kaisen] had been frustrated that he was unable to see an emergency room physician for reasons related to his mental health.”
“Someone dropped the ball,” one worker was quoted as saying. “They should not have turned him away.”
One of the workers noted that a psychologist is not typically available at all times at the emergency room. However, the Northport VAMC’s site claims “There is always a caring mental health doctor available 24/7 in our Emergency Room.”
Suffolk County Police Assistant Commissioner Justin Meyers said the department was notified about the incident at 12:07 p.m. on Sunday.
Responding officers found Kaisen dead outside his Toyota, Meyers said.
“Because this incident took place on federal property,” he added, “the FBI is now leading the investigation.”
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agency’s involvement but said “there’s nothing criminal at this time.” She declined to say whether or not the death was related to suicide.
In a statement through spokesman Todd Goodman, the Northport VAMC, said: “There are no words to adequately convey our heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and neighbors regarding the death of a 76 year-old Veteran found on the grounds of Northport VAMC.
“The employees here at Northport feel this loss deeply and extend their thoughts and prayers to all those impacted by this tragedy,” the statement continued. “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. The Veterans Crisis Line is a resource that connects Veterans in crisis with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Goodman said the Northport VAMC would not be conducting any interviews with media outlets due to the sensitive nature of the incident.
In the Times report, he was quoted as saying there “was no indication that [Kaisen] presented to the E.R. prior to the incident.”
Jennifer DiSiena, a spokeswoman for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), said the congressman is aware of the incident and is “trying to confirm details.”
“Our office has been monitoring the situation closely to try to piece everything together,” DiSiena said in a statement.
The VA released a study on veteran suicides in July which found that an average of 20 veterans each day take their own lives. Out of those daily suicide-related deaths, six were VA patients, according to the study, which used figures from 2014. In total, 41,425 US adults died by suicide that year, and 18 percent were identified as military veterans.
The tragic mental health crisis impacting veterans was documented in a 2015 report published by the Annals of Epidemeology, which concluded: “Veterans exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared with the US general population.”
An announcement on the Moloney Family Funeral Homes website notes that Kaisen died on Sunday, Aug. 21.
“Devoted husband, beloved father, grandfather, cherished friend and brother,” reads the brief announcement.
Condolences poured in on the site, as people paid respects to the military veteran.
“We salute you sir,” reads just one of many tributes. “Your sacrifice for our country represents a staggering debt that can never be repaid. We pray for your family, your friends, and your soul. God bless you.”
“I read what happened to you,” another noted. “Your death is not in vain. Through your tragedy, may the bureaucrats change policies to help others that were in your situation.”
“As a Vet I would like to thank Mr Kaisen for his service and his family for their sacrifice,” a man who goes by Ed commented. “What a terrible shame it is when a veteran or anyone takes their life.”
The VA is no stranger to controversy.
Just two years ago, the Veterans Affairs medical system came under intense scrutiny when it was revealed that several veterans who were patients at a VA hospital in Phoenix died after prolonged waiting periods for treatment. Eric Shinseki, the VA Secretary at the time, resigned about a month after the scandal erupted.
The Press broke a story last year about the Northport VA’s controversial detention of former Marine-turned Occupy Wall Street activist Shamar Thomas, who was ironically held against his will at the facility in an attempt to help him. His confinement raised awareness about the many challenges facing his fellow servicemen and women as they return home from the battlefield.