Iraq war veteran's parents sue U.S. after suicide
Yahoo News/Reuters
By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
July 26, 2007

BOSTON (Reuters) - The parents of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide sued the U.S. government on Thursday for negligence, charging their son hanged himself after the government ignored his depression.

The suit accuses the federal government of not helping 23-year-old Jeffrey Lucey, who committed suicide in his parents' Massachusetts basement less than a year after returning home from fighting during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson was also named in the suit.

"This government is guilty of not taking care of the troops after they come home," the veteran's father, Kevin Lucey, said in an interview. "We are hoping to show this nation how broken the Veterans Administration is. We want to make this a responsive and efficient system."

The action follows another suit in which two veterans' rights groups allege the Department of Veterans Affairs delayed and denied veterans help for combat-related disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Department of Veterans Affairs declined to comment on the Lucey lawsuit, but spokesman Phil Budahn said the VA was "dedicated to meeting the mental health care needs of all veterans."

A presidential commission on Wednesday called for the first major reform of the military health care system in 50 years, following media reports that many wounded soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan faced neglect.

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on August 15, 2003, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Lucey started to vomit daily, suffered nightmares, began to drink heavily and called himself a murderer, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He told his sister he had "a rope and tree picked out."

Embarrassed to seek help himself amid fear of being labeled weak and letting down his war buddies, he was involuntarily committed at a local Veteran Affairs hospital for 3 1/2 days.

The lawsuit asserts the hospital refused to commit him again after he destroyed the family car in a crash. Lucey's death is "directly attributable to (the) defendants personnel's negligence, carelessness, recklessness and lack of skill," his parents charge in the suit.

The Lucey family is not seeking money. "How can you put a price on a life?" Kevin Lucey said.

Nicholson resigned as Veterans Affairs secretary this month after personal information for tens of millions of people was compromised in the theft of a laptop computer.

His department has faced heavy criticism for employing poorly trained staff and not detecting former soldiers' mental health problems quickly and efficiently enough.

VA health care workers see an estimated 1 million patients a week.

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