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Veteran kills himself in parking lot of VA hospital on Long Island

  • Author: Kristina Rebelo, The New York Times
  • Updated: August 24, 2016
  • Published August 24, 2016

A 76-year-old veteran committed suicide on Sunday in the parking lot of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island, New York, where he had been a patient, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Peter A. Kaisen, of Islip, was pronounced dead after he shot himself outside Building 92, the nursing home at the medical center.

The hospital is part of the Veterans Affairs medical system, the nation's largest integrated health care organization, which has been under scrutiny since 2014, when the department confirmed that numerous patients had died awaiting treatment at a VA hospital in Phoenix. Officials there had tried to cover up long waiting times for 1,700 veterans seeking medical care. A study released by the Government Accountability Office in April indicated that the system had yet to fix its scheduling problems.

Why Kaisen decided to end his life was not immediately known, but two people connected to the hospital who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his death said that he had been frustrated that he was unable to see an emergency-room physician for reasons related to his mental health. "He went to the ER and was denied service," said one of the people, who works at the hospital. "And then he went to his car and shot himself."

The worker questioned why Kaisen had not been referred to the hospital's Building 64, its mental health center. The staff member said that while there was normally no psychologist at the ready in the ER, one was always on call, and that the mental health building was open "24/7."

"Someone dropped the ball," the worker said. "They should not have turned him away."

Christopher Goodman, a spokesman for the hospital, said that there "was no indication that he presented to the ER prior to the incident." It is unclear if any official record was made of a visit by Kaisen.

Goodman said "the employees here at Northport feel this loss deeply and extend their thoughts and prayers to all those impacted by this tragedy."

Kaisen's family declined to comment.

Lt. Kevin Beyrer, a Suffolk County detective, said that the FBI was carrying out the investigation into Kaisen's death because it had occurred on federal property. He said that VA police had called county police on Sunday at 12:32 p.m. and that it appeared that Kaisen had been alone at the time of his death.

The Northport hospital has been under scrutiny for mismanagement and poor care since The New York Times reported in May that it had closed all five of its operating rooms for months after sand-size black particles began falling from air ducts. The office of Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican whose 1st Congressional District includes Northport, had been looking into the allegations, Eric Amidon, Zeldin's chief of staff, said in an email to The Times in June.

Jennifer DiSiena, Zeldin's communications director, said Wednesday that his office was trying to confirm the details of Kaisen's death and "piece everything together."

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