KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Mike Douglas shot and killed himself inside his truck at the VA parking lot on June 13.
He suffered from PTSD and, most recently, cancer.
Douglas served in the Navy during Vietnam. He loved guns, knives and swords.
“He said I don’t care where you bury me don’t bury me at Leavenworth. I don’t want to be buried there. And that’s why he went there and committed suicide at the VA ... because he was so frustrated over the care,” Douglas' sister, Carol Dawkins, said.
Before his death, he has sent KCTV5 News emails complaining about his treatment.
“At this point it seems the Leavenworth VA has set me up for a painful death!” wrote Douglas.
His sister says he blamed the VA for a delayed diagnosis of cancer. She says reviewing his medical records made it clear to her that anyone would have trouble navigating the system. Her brother with PTSD and depression didn’t stand a chance.
“He was told that he needed a biopsy 2 years previous; but nothing was done on that. Oh good! No news good news! They decided I don’t need it. Nobody followed up and nobody called,” Carol Dawkins said.
Mike Douglas emailed his sister about his final doctor’s appointment.
“The VA radiation clinic shattered whatever thoughts I had of a little radiation getting rid of my cancer. He talked about a permanent feeding tube, pulling my teeth. Taking out part of my jaw. Replacing it with part of my arm, also chemo for weeks. I can say none of that is going to happen! Thanks Leavenworth VA for a mess!” wrote Mike Douglas.
Mike Douglas walked out of that final doctor’s appointment and walked straight to his truck and shot and killed himself. VA doctors tried to save him. he was pronounced dead inside the emergency room. The VA called his sister to notify her about her brother’s death.
Parking lot deaths
Mike Douglas is not alone.
KCTV5 Investigations has learned that there have been at least 12 other attempts on VA property in the past five years. Six of those attempts took place on Kansas City’s campus. The other six took place on the eastern campuses which include Topeka and Leavenworth.
This past spring, a veteran went into the St. Louis VA and shot and killed himself inside a waiting room.
KCTV5 News spent months reviewing Mike Douglas’ case and speaking to veterans about care at the VA.
“I understand the frustration Mike went through before this happened, whole heartedly! I deal with the VA on a regular basis,” Gene Russell said.
Russell is a veteran KCTV5 has worked with on previous reports regarding health care at the VA. He alerted our investigative unit that what happened with Mike Douglas reflected a deeper problem.
“They are committing suicide at the VA because they are trying to draw attention to the lack of care at the VA ... but it’s being ignored,” said Russell. “I know guys call crisis hotline and get put on hold. It’s poorly, poorly managed!”
Why the VA?
During our investigation, Steve Mark attempted suicide in the parking lot by swallowing pills.
Mark served in the Navy during Vietnam. He’s been a pastor, a police officer and even worked undercover.
He says decades have rolled by but Vietnam is still there.
“There is not a night that rolls by that I don’t have a nightmare about something," he said.
Mark says many things built up but says he was frustrated with his doctors and over his care and the medicine he gets through the VA for his PTSD and severe depression ran out.
“It’s supposed to take seven days and it took four weeks,” Mark said.
Mark says he stopped taking medication and things spiraled from there.
“So, my legs were hurting. I felt lost. All my doctors were gone. All the people I trusted were gone. Got in my car and drove back to Leavenworth and sat out in the parking lot and took my pills and just before I passed out I called them,” Mark said.
“Why go there?” KCTV5 investigative reporter Angie Ricono asked.
“I didn’t want people close to me finding me after I had been dead for a week. And part of it was, you all want to screw me over ... here you go,” Mark said.
The VA says any suicide or attempt triggers an automatic review.
However, Carol Dawkins says the only phone call she received from the VA was a death notification.
Steve Mark told our unit little review was done on his case. He also informed us at the three-week mark he still hadn’t been assigned a new psychiatrist.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I really don’t,” Mark said.
Our investigative unit contacted the VA concerned about Mark’s lack of care. At first, the VA had trouble finding Mark in the system.
Mark said he was eventually assigned a physician’s assistant not a psychiatrist. It’s not what he was hoping for but he says the VA is all he has.
“I’m not going to give up. I believe there’s hope working with the VA. I sure hope so. A lot of men and women depend on it. I’m not going to give up on it," he said.
KCTV5 reached out to the VA and asked to speak to leadership about Steve Mark's and Michael Douglas' case and suicides on property. The VA declined and instead sent a statement.
Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many.
That’s why VA is implementing a wide range of prevention activities to address many different risk factors. We are working alongside dozens of partners, including DoD, to deploy suicide prevention programming that supports all current and former Service members – even those who do not come to VA for care. Examples of joint efforts to prevent Veteran suicide include the Mayor’s Challenge and Executive Order 13822.
Our approach is summarized in the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which provides a framework for identifying priorities, organizing efforts, and contributing to a national focus on Veteran suicide prevention.
If any Veteran is in crisis, we encourage him or her to visit the closest VA health care facility, where they can receive same-day urgent primary and mental health care services. Additionally, Veterans can call the Veterans crisis line 24-hours a day, 365-days a year at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.