Congressmen demand ‘thorough’ probe of suicide outside VA hospital
Two Long Island congressmen are “demanding an expeditious and transparent investigation” of the suicide of a Navy veteran from Islip, who shot himself Sunday on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) made the request Thursday in a letter to FBI Director James Comey and Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald.
“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 priority,” the letter states.
King and Israel expressed concern that the veteran — Peter Kaisen, 76 — committed suicide after possibly “seeking treatment” at Northport.
VA Northport deputy spokesman Todd Goodman said Thursday that Kaisen did not enter any buildings at the medical center before he took his life in a parking lot Sunday afternoon.
Thomas Farley, a family friend, said Kaisen may have gone to the hospital Sunday to seek treatment for depression.
“That was his last chance for help,” Farley said. “He went there for help, and they failed him.”
Kaisen had been suffering from severe back pain stemming from an auto accident that ended his career as a Long Beach police officer in the 1960s, according to his wife, Joan Kaisen.
VA Northport Director Philip Moschitta called the incident a “tragic event” in an emailed statement.
He did not respond to questions surrounding the shooting, including how a patient was able to bring a firearm onto what is by law a gun-free facility.
“At no point did the staff in this facility fail to do the right thing by our patients,” Moschitta said in the statement. “The Northport VA stands ready to cooperate with any investigative body that believes more information is needed.”
Joan Kaisen said her husband, who served as a Navy gunner aboard the supply ship USS Denebola in 1958-60, left their home without telling her early Sunday.
She said she didn’t know of his whereabouts until that afternoon, when an emergency room physician at the medical center called and urged her to come immediately.
“He came to the door looking very solemn,” she said of her encounter with the doctor. “I looked at him and said, ‘Is he gone?’ And he said, ‘I’m sorry, your husband shot himself in the head.’ ”
Kaisen said her husband may have been frustrated after doctors at Northport earlier this year told him there was nothing more they could do to alleviate his pain. She said at times the pain was so severe he couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes at a time.
Peter Kaisen was discovered bleeding and unresponsive about noon Sunday, outside his Toyota Highlander in the parking lot.
His wife said police recovered a Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver at the scene.
Goodman said doctors were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead in the emergency room, about 200 yards from where he had been found.
Suicide rates among veterans have raised alarm among advocates.
Veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults in 2014, according to VA data, more than twice the rate of the general population.
Joan Kaisen said she was upset at what she perceived to be limited staffing at the facility on Sunday. She hopes that her husband’s death will spur VA officials to boost staffing levels.
“All I want is justice for the vets,” she said. “I don’t want his demise to be in vain.”