By Pat Anson, Editor
Two congressmen are asking for an investigation into the apparent suicide of a Navy veteran suffering from chronic back pain outside a veteran’s hospital in New York.
76-year old Peter Kaisen of Islip was found dead inside his car in a parking lot Sunday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport. He suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head.
Kaisen’s wife told Newsday that he suffered from back pain and was unable to sit for more than a few minutes. She said doctors at the VA hospital told her husband there was nothing more they could do to ease his suffering.
The VA this year implemented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s opioid guidelines, which discourage doctors from prescribing opioid pain medication for chronic pain. Since those guidelines were adopted, several veterans have complained to Pain News Network that their opioid doses have been reduced or stopped altogether. It's not clear if that's what happened to Kaisen.
The VA provides health services to 6 million veterans and their families. Over half of the veterans treated by the VA have chronic pain.
A longtime friend and fellow veteran told the Associated Press that Kaisen visited the VA hospital once or twice a month. He lives about 30 miles away.
"We all think there is probably some depression," said Tom Farley said. "Maybe he wanted meds. Maybe he wanted to sit and talk. I don't know. None of the family knows."
A spokesman for the hospital declined to discuss Kaisen's medical history, but said the hospital had no evidence that he sought treatment at the emergency room on the day he died.
"The Northport VA stands ready to cooperate with any investigative body that believes more information is needed," the hospital's director, Philip Moschitta, said in a statement. "At no point did the staff in this facility fail to do the right thing by our patients."
But two hospital employees told The New York Times that Kaisen had been frustrated he could not see a doctor in the emergency room, where he went to seek help related to his mental health.
“He went to the E.R. and was denied service,” one employee said. “And then he went to his car and shot himself."
“Someone dropped the ball. They should not have turned him away,” another worker said.
Congressmen Peter King and Steve Israel sent a letter to the FBI and the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday asking for a "transparent" investigation into Kaisen’s death.
"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 wellbeing is of the upmost priority," they wrote.
Kaisen’s wife told Newsday her husband served on a Navy supply ship, the USS Denebola, from 1958 to 1962.
According to a 2014 Inspector General’s study, more than half of the veterans being treated at the VA have chronic pain, as well as other conditions that contribute to it, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Because veterans are at high risk of opioid abuse and overdose, the VA implemented an Opioid Safety Initiative in 2013 to discourage its doctors from prescribing the drugs. The number of veterans prescribed opioids fell by 110,000, but alarms were raised when some vets turned to street drugs or suicide to stop their pain.
According to a VA study released in July, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day.