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Dad, brother of Navy veteran sue VA over his suicide

Sat., Aug. 20, 2011

Lucas Senescall
Lucas Senescall

The father and brother of a Navy veteran who killed himself three years ago are suing the federal government, alleging negligence by the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The death of Lucas Senescall, 26, on July 7, 2008, came amid a spike in the number of suicides by Spokane-area veterans.

From July 2007 to July 2008, 21 veterans in the Spokane VA service area killed themselves, including 14 who’d had contact with the medical center, according to Department of Veterans Affairs records.

Senescall, who had a history of mental health problems, sought help from the medical center’s behavioral health unit before returning to his Spokane home and hanging himself.

Steve Senescall accompanied his son to the medical center that day and witnessed Lucas’ interaction with VA staff members. The veteran’s brother, Jake Senescall, discovered his body.

Steve and Jake Senescall have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, seeking damages from the federal government for alleged negligence by the VA and for the pain and suffering they endured as a result of Senescall’s death.

A medical center spokesman said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The lawsuit alleges that Senescall, who had previously attempted suicide, showed up at the medical center despondent on the day of his death and told a VA nurse, “I don’t want to exist.”

A psychiatrist failed to offer Senescall treatment, counseling or medication, the lawsuit says, but instead “chastised Lucas for missing three mental health appointments in the prior three years.”

Later that day, Senescall had further contact with VA staff by telephone, complaining, “I am not doing well,” but nobody told his father, the police or others he should have been under suicide watch, the suit says.

The lawsuit cites a February 2009 report by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector that concluded Senescall should have been offered admission and should have been examined outside his father’s presence.

The Senescalls are seeking no less than $1.35 million in damages.

Following an overhaul in VA suicide prevention tactics, the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center reported nine suicides from July 2008 to July 2009, including three veterans who’d had contact with the medical center – a dramatic decrease.

In May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to overhaul its mental health care system nationally in response to a lawsuit filed by veterans groups.

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