ATLANTA — Two veterans killed themselves at separate Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Georgia over the weekend, refocusing attention on what VA officials have called its “highest clinical priority.”
The first death happened Friday in a parking lot at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, according to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office. The second death occurred Saturday outside the main entrance to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur on Clairmont Road.
An email the VA sent Monday to the Georgia Department of Veterans Service about the Atlanta incident said VA clinical staff provided immediate aid to the male victim and called 911. The veteran was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“This incident remains under investigation and we are working with the local investigating authorities,” the email continued. “The family has been contacted and offered support.”
The victim in Atlanta was 68-year-old Olen Hancock of Alpharetta. He was seen pacing in the lobby of the medical center before he went outside and shot himself.
“It tells me that we’ve got a lot of work to do," Veterans Advocate Brandi Petit-Robinson said. “They’re human beings with real life issues, with feelings and emotions.”
Channel 2's Aaron Diamant spoke with Petit-Robinson because her brother Joseph's 2012 suicide inside the Atlanta hospital went unnoticed by staff for nearly 24 hours in the middle of another federal investigation Channel 2 exposed in 2013, which linked mismanagement by hospital leaders to three other patient deaths.
“He did what he did when he did it, where he did it, for a reason,” Petit-Robinson said.
The most recent data published by the VA shows more than 200 veterans in Georgia took their own lives in 2016. VA leaders in Atlanta wouldn’t talk specifically about Hancock’s death due to patient privacy concerns. But in an email, a spokesperson said, “Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by this untimely death. Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many.”
The spokesperson also said leaders will review policies and procedures and make changes if necessary.
“My expectations are to do better,” Petit-Robinson said.
Isakson told Channel 2 Action News that despite the VA's nationwide suicide prevention efforts, these deaths are a sign the VA needs to do better.
One example: A federal report from November shows inspectors found the VA only spent a tiny fraction of the millions it budgeted for media outreach.
There are resources available to veterans considering hurting themselves. To talk to someone, call the VA crisis line at 800-273-8255. You can also text 838-255 for help.
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