Documents show vet committed suicide at Atlanta VA during federal probe into mismanagement

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A local family told Channel 2 Action News the breakdowns at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in DeKalb County are to blame for another soldier's suicide.

A Channel 2 Action News investigation has exposed alarming problems at the veterans hospital after federal reports blamed bad management by hospital leaders, which lead to at least three patient deaths.

Sources told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant about even more. It took weeks of digging, but Thursday, Diamant finally confirmed that a veteran who went to the hospital looking for help, took his own life inside the hospital in the middle of that federal investigation.

"He represented what he stood for, and that was God, family, country," Brandi Petit told Diamant, saying the country her big brother Joseph Petit turned to for help failed him.

Joseph Petit had trained to be a ranger, but a knee injury knocked him out. He spent 20 years living in pain and the last few in a wheelchair, in and out of the VA system for help battling severe mental illness.

"He was my brother, my only brother. He was (our mother's) only son," Brandi Petit said. "It was very hard."

Last November, a van from the Atlanta VA Medical Center picked him up for a therapy appointment.

"As far as we know he went, but I don't know exactly what happened afterward, because he never came home," Brandi Petit told Diamant.

When his mother, Sandra Petit, called the VA the next day looking for him, "They told me that they didn't know where he was."

She said she got a call back a few hours later saying "that they had found him, and he was dead."

Found in an eighth floor bathroom, Joseph Petit had committed suicide a day earlier with a plastic bag, still in his wheelchair.

The medical examiner's report said Joseph Petit had shown up in the ER "having a mental health crisis."

Joseph Petit's psychiatrist told investigators, "He was hearing voices and was afraid he was going to harm his mother."

But despite his previous similar suicide attempt, the psychiatrist said the hospital "did not admit Mr. Petit and thought that he had left the hospital."

"He wanted them to admit him, so that he was sure that he wasn't going to hurt anybody," Sandra Petit said.

And Petit's family now wants to know how the VA lost track of him.

"Figure it out. Fix it, and do right by the ones you need to help," Sandra Petit said.

The VA refused to answer Diamant's specific questions about this case, including how no one sounded an alarm when Joseph Petit missed his ride home.

A short statement from the VA called every veteran suicide a tragedy and that it will continue to provide counseling and strengthen its suicide prevention efforts.



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