When a federal judge decided in July that the Veterans Health Administration was liable for the death of an Iraq veteran who was treated at the VA and later killed himself, it was thought to be one of the few instances nationwide where the VA has been held directly responsible for a veteran’s suicide.
Now the federal government is appealing that verdict.
A notice of appeal filed Wednesday said the United States is seeking review of the judgment by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, as well as her findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Robinson found the VA liable for the death of Cpl. William Draughon of Kansas City and awarded more than $480,000 in damages to Draughon’s father and his two children.
Draughon, a graduate of North Kansas City High School, was a squad leader and gunner in Iraq for seven months in 2004 before he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.
Evidence at the trial showed that after he returned to the Kansas City area, he began drinking heavily and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. During one of several hospitalizations at the Kansas City VA, he’d been flagged as being at high risk for suicide. Although no risk assessment was done, a suicide prevention coordinator at the hospital removed the high-risk flag from his electronic medical records 90 days later.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 2010, after arguing with his girlfriend, Draughon shot and killed himself in front of his girlfriend and brother. He was 28 years old.
Draughon’s family, believing the VA was negligent in its care of Draughon, sued the agency for negligence. The case was tried by Robinson, who found that the VA had breached its own standards of care by removing Draughon from its high-risk list for suicides.
Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas, which filed the notice of appeal on behalf of the government, said his office would have no comment.
“The motion speaks for itself,” Cross said.
Michael Raupp, a lawyer who represented the Draughon family, said he was “confident in the decision that Judge Robinson made – all the rulings she made throughout the course of the proceedings.”
“We’ll withhold any comment until we see the basis on which the appeal is proceeding,” he said.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies