A Vet Fatally Overdosed While On Lockdown In A VA Hospital. Now His Wife Is Demanding Answers

Family & Relationships

The widow of a Marine who fatally overdosed on fentanyl while on lockdown supervision at the Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatric campus in Brockton is demanding to know how he got the drugs, while the VA has simply attributed his death to the nation’s larger opioid scourge.


“Since he has passed, the VA has told us nothing,” Jamie Lee Hasted told the Herald in an emotional interview about her late husband, Hank Brandon Lee. “Answers, the bottom line is answers. ... Did he take it willingly, not willingly, mixed up in the medicine? You have video cameras, where is the video? What happened? Let me try to get some type of closure.”

Lee, a Marine lance corporal and mortarman who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, died at age 35 of acute fentanyl intoxication March 4 after he was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton, according to his death certificate.

The day he died, Lee was found unresponsive by a nursing assistant and medication nurse in the day room of the inpatient psych ward. He “appeared to be sleeping sitting up in chair with head tilted to right, color ashen” when found, and didn’t answer when they called him, according to VA records reviewed by the Herald. First responders found him “unresponsive, pulseless,” according to fire department records.

“Reportedly, he was ‘fine’ per nursing report a few minutes before being found ‘slumped over,’?” a report from a VA staff physician reads.

Lee had been on “lockdown” in the VA facility, meaning he was checked by a nurse every 15 minutes and his trips off-site were very limited and closely supervised.

“This case is one of a kind. I have never heard of anybody die in lockdown,” said Rick Collins of Veterans 360, an advocacy group that is assisting Lee’s widow.

The VA told the Herald that fentanyl was not prescribed to any patient in the inpatient psychiatry unit when Lee died, and that Lee had no personal visitors during his four-week stay there.

“All patient belongings are searched twice for contraband upon admission — once in Urgent Care and again on the admission ward,” Pallas Wahl, a spokeswoman for the Greater Boston VA system, told the Herald.

“We only search patient rooms if there is cause for concern.”

If patients are considered stable, they are allowed to leave the unit for medical appointments with a nurse’s supervision, and for supervised recreational therapy, Wahl said. She said staff does not search patients for drugs upon re-entry because vets are always “under close nursing supervision.”

Wahl did not say if the VA determined how Lee obtained fentanyl, referring to a sealed “Root Cause Analysis” and “Formal Peer Review,” private documents the VA produces when a veteran dies in their care. But she said the Boston VA system increased its surveillance and use of drug-sniffing dogs in response to Lee’s death.

Anthony Hardie, director of the D.C. advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, said that’s not enough.

“Not only does his wife and loved ones deserve answers, but the public deserves a full accounting of how this happened — of what happened and how,” Hardie said.

Wahl said Lee “touched many lives while receiving treatment at VA Boston Healthcare System,” and “is missed by all who knew him.”

“Sadly, Lance Cpl. Lee was a victim of the opioid epidemic that kills nearly six people daily in Massachusetts,” Wahl said. “We deeply regret every death from opioid overdose, and VA Boston has been a leader in trying to stem the opioid epidemic.”

Lee was deemed 100 percent disabled for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury tied to injuries suffered in the service, according to his VA medical records. He served from 2001 to 2008.

He told medical staff in Brockton he’d been hit by a gunshot and IED blast while serving in Iraq. He also told doctors he heard voices, and had sometimes anxiety tied to the loss of comrades.

The day before he overdosed, Lee told doctors he was feeling particularly anxious and hearing voices because it was the anniversary of the day he was shot, an anniversary he told them he’d previously dealt with by doing drugs.

Lee tested positive for opioids, and admitted to a history of crystal meth use and suicide attempts, when first interviewed by the Brockton VA.

He came to Boston from his native Mississippi to seek better help for his PTSD symptoms and after a fight with his wife, with whom he has twins. She still lives in Mississippi and is fighting with the VA over survivor benefits and funeral costs.

But he was doing well in Brockton, she said, and sounding optimistic just before his death.

“Three days before he passed away, in art class, he made a card that was supposed to describe himself in one word — he described himself as triumphant,” she said. “His doctors in Boston would call me every week and tell me how well he was doing and things were going great. You put your guard down, you trust them.”

———

©2017 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Casperassets.rbl.ms

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested on Jan. 29, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Wilmington Police Department, North Carolina.)

A special operations Marine is due in court on March 7 after being arrested last year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Task & Purpose has learned.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested and charged with assault inflicting serious injury on July 29, 2018, according to Jennifer Dandron, a spokeswoman for police in Wilmington, North Carolina. Evans is currently assigned as a Critical Skills Operator with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to the Marine Corps Personnel Locator.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. Medvigy, a fire support officer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company D, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

Following Trump's inauguration, some supporters of ground combat integration assumed he would quickly move to reinstate a ban on women in jobs like the infantry. When this did not happen, advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, and hundreds of qualified women charted a course in history by entering the newly opened occupational fields.

So earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal published an editorial against women in ground combat by conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald, the inclination of many ground combat integration supporters was to dismiss it outright. But given Trump's proclivity to make knee jerk policy decisions in response to falling approval ratings and the court's tradition of deference to the military when it comes to policies affecting good order and discipline, it would be unwise to assume the 2016 lifting of the ban on women in ground combat is a done deal.

Read More Show Less

R. Lee Ermey was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

Best known for his iconic role as the Marine Corps drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the war drama Full Metal Jacket, Ermey died April 15, 2018 at age 74 due to complications from pneumonia, Task & Purpose previously reported.

Read More Show Less
A B-2 Spirit bomber deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and F-22 Raptors from the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing fly near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, during a interoperability training mission Jan. 15, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Russ Scalf)

The U.S. Air Force has two of its most elite aircraft — the B-2 Spirit bomber and the F-22 Raptor — training together in the Pacific, reassuring America's allies and sending a warning to strategic competitors and adversaries about the sheer power the U.S. brings to the table.

These stunning photos show the powerful aircraft tearing across the Pacific, where the U.S. has increasingly found itself facing challenges from a rising China.

Read More Show Less