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Parents of Marine Sue Veterans Affairs for Wrongful Death


Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the U.S. military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him after a few days. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. [includes rush transcript]

When Americans opposed to war call for a cut off of funding, the administration responds that they don’t support the troops. But a growing number of veterans groups and military families are saying it’s the administration that’s deserted the troops.

 

Last week two major lawsuits were filed that could put the administration’s treatment of veterans on trial. A class-action suit on behalf of hundreds of thousands of soldiers accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs of ignoring veterans’ mental health care needs and overzealously denying medical care and benefits. The plaintiffs are two veterans groups. Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth say returning soldiers are denied care through outright rejection or the long waiting process in a backlog of some 600,000 pending claims. The suit also accuses the VA of collaborating with the Pentagon to avoid paying benefits by classifying post-traumatic stress disorder claims as pre-existing conditions. Up to 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are said to suffer or risk developing PTSD.

 

Just a day after the first suit, the parents of a U.S. marine who committed suicide after returning home from Iraq filed a suit alleging government failure to treat veterans cost their son his life. Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the U.S. military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him after a few days. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. The Luceys are suing the VA for negligence.

 

On Monday, Joyce and Kevin Lucey joined me from Chicopee, Massachusetts to talk about their son Jeffrey and the lawsuit they’ve brought over his death. Today, we spend the hour hearing their story. I began by asking Joyce Lucey about how her son came to Iraq.

 

Joyce and Kevin Lucey, parents of Jeffrey Lucey.

 

AMY GOODMAN: When Americans opposed to war call for a cut-off of funding, the administration responds they don’t support the troops. But a growing number of veterans’ groups and military families are saying it’s the administration that’s deserted the troops.

 

Last week, two major lawsuits were filed that could put the administration’s treatment of veterans on trial. A class-action suit on behalf of hundreds of thousands of soldiers accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs of ignoring veterans’ mental healthcare and overzealously denying medical care and benefits. The plaintiffs are two veterans’ groups: Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth. They say returning soldiers are denied care through outright rejection or the long waiting process in a backlog of some 600,000 pending claims. The suit also accuses the VA of collaborating with the Pentagon to avoid paying benefits by classifying post-traumatic stress disorder claims as pre-existing conditions. Up to 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are said to suffer or risk developing PTSD.

 

Just a day after the first suit was filed, the parents of a US marine who committed suicide after returning from Iraq filed a suit alleging government failure to treat veterans cost their son his life. Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the US military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May of 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him a few days later. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. The Luceys are suing the VA for negligence.

 

On Monday, Joyce and Kevin Lucey joined me from Chicopee, Massachusetts to talk about their son Jeffrey and the lawsuit they’ve brought over his death. Today, we spend the hour hearing their story. I began by asking Joyce Lucey about how her son went to Iraq.

 

JOYCE LUCEY: Jeffrey went to Kuwait in the beginning of February of 2003, into Iraq with the initial invasion in March. He returned home to us in July of 2003. And at the beginning, we really saw — we didn’t notice any major difference, although his girlfriend said he was distant when they went away for the weekend to Cape Cod, and he told a friend that he had seen enough sand to last him a lifetime, so he really didn’t want to go on the beach.

 

We found out during the fall that he was vomiting on a daily basis. We encouraged him to go to the doctor on that. And they went more for a physical reason, rather than a psychological, and now, looking back, it might have been the PTSD starting. And then he progressed onto Christmas Eve, where he threw the dog tags at his sister and called himself a murderer. From there to nightmares, which I heard him yelling out, and to which he said he was fine, that he was just having a dream that he was caught in an alleyway and they were coming after him.

 

And then Jeffrey went back to college. He had been in college since September, after his return, went back to college in January and was fine until March, when they have their college break. And at that point, he got very depressed, drinking, and couldn’t go back to school, even though he didn’t actually tell me that. But he would go and come home early and say class had ended early or the professor didn’t show up. So I didn’t really know he wasn’t attending classes, but he was having panic attacks, and when he finally did say something, he said he just couldn’t stay in class. And he was also having a startled response, if somebody would slam a door. So he went to our primary care physician at that point and was put on Prozac and Ativan to see if it could keep him in class.

 

And it just continued on from there, the inability to sleep, the lack of appetite, the social seclusion.

 

Do you recall further?

 

KEVIN LUCEY: He had a lot of different things. There was hallucinations that started with the visual, the audio, tactile. He would talk about hearing camel spiders in his room at night, and he actually had a flashlight under his bed for which he could use to search for the camel spiders. His whole life was falling apart, and it was very hard.

 

And what also happened was that the family was being impacted tremendously, but we adapted to it. We didn’t even recognize that we were going through our own horrors.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, Joyce said that at Christmas he threw the dog tags. What dog tags?

 

KEVIN LUCEY: He threw the dog tags that his girlfriend had spoken to us about that concerned her. He had his dog tag, and then there was — from a story that Jeff shared with us, he had two other dog tags, Iraqi, that were from men that he said that he knew he killed. And he would never take those dog tags off. The only two times that we know the dog tags were taken off was on December 24th of 2003, when he threw them at his sister, and then we — I found it on his bed on June 22nd, 2004, the day he died.

 

AMY GOODMAN: And do you know who these men were and what the circumstances were? He said he killed them?

 

KEVIN LUCEY: The story that he shared with us, he shared with myself and his sister, was basically that they were two unarmed Iraqi men and that he was in close proximity and somebody had told him to pull the trigger. And –

 

AMY GOODMAN: Somebody?

 

KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. We don’t know who. We don’t know who. We don’t know if it was a member of his unit or if it was an officer. We aren’t sure. He never shared that with us. But what happened was that he did speak about how the gun was shaking when he did it, and he was looking at the young man, especially one of them, and he said — he said that it could have been him. It was a young man who he was wondering about, whose son he was, whether he was a father, his parents. And that was part of the emotional toll. His therapist came up to us afterwards and stated to us very directly that Jeff wore the dog tags to honor those two men that he knew he killed, not as trophies.

 

AMY GOODMAN: And these were Iraqis.

 

KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. There was another agency that looked into it, and what they did was they were able to translate them. And it was a man from Babylon and a man from Baghdad.

 

AMY GOODMAN: As the months went by, Jeffrey started t

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