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Channel 9 obtains video from inside VA hospital showing what led up to veteran’s death

September 15, 2019


A CHANNEL 9 INVESTIGATION INTO THE CARE OUR VETERANS ARE GETTING FROM THE VA. VIDEOS THAT WE OBTAINED SHOWS HOW CARE WENT TRAGICALLY WRONG. A HERO, THERE FOR HELP, RESTRAINED AND CHOKED UNTIL HE DIED. THIS MAN WAS UNLAWFULLY KILLED BY MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES. YOU ARE WATCHING EYEWITNESS NEWS AT 6:00. THIS IS NAVY VETERAN LUKE SMITH. THE 37-YEAR-OLD SERVED THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FROM 1999-2004. HE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH A SERVICE-RELATED MENTAL ILLNESS AND HONORABLY DISCHARGED FROM THE NAVY. HE TURNED TO THE VA FOR CARE BUT DIED AT THE HANDS OF THE MEDICAL STAFF WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO HELP HIM. WE HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THE STORY FOR WEEKS ON THIS INVESTIGATION AND ALLISON, NOW YOU HAVE VIDEO AND IT SHOULD LEAD TO SOME MAJOR CALLS FOR CHANGE. THE INCIDENT THAT LED TO SMITH’S DEATH WAS CAPTURED ON CAMERA INSIDE OF THE VA FACILITY IN COLUMBIA. I NEED TO WARN YOU. IT IS DIFFICULT TO WATCH. WE HAVE TRIED TO BE EXTREMELY SENSITIVE WITH WHAT WE SHOW YOU TONIGHT BUT THE FAMILY AND VETERANS ADVOCATES SAY THIS REVEALS A BIGGER PROBLEM WITH THE CARE OUR HEROES ARE GETTING. A NAVY AIR FLIGHT LAUNCHING CAPTAIN, AIRPLANE MECHANIC, A SON AND A BROTHER. THIS IS THE 37-YEAR-OLD MAN LUKE SMITH’S FAMILY REMEMBERS. THEY DID NOT LOSE THEIR SON TO SERVICE OVERSEAS. HIS TRAGIC DEATH HAPPENED SEPTEMBER 8th, 2017. HERE, INSIDE OF THE WILLIAM JENNINGS VA MEDICAL CENTER IN COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA. SMITH WAS DIAGNOSED WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS THAT WAS RELATED TO HIS MILITARY SERVICE. AND WAS RECEIVING TREATMENT NEAR CHARLESTON WHEN IMPENDING HURRICANE IRMA FORCED HIM TO BE EVACUATED TO COLUMBIA. HE ENTERED A ROOM WITH OTHER PATIENTS, SECONDS LATER, AN ALTERCATION AND MEDICAL STAFF RUSH IN. TWO MEN IMMEDIATELY TACKLED SMITH TO THE GROUND. ONE PUTTING HIM IN A HEADLOCK. SO, HE IS PRESSED FLAT ON THIS FLOOR WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS THEIR ARM AROUND HIS THROAT, PRESSING ON HIM AND HE HAS ANOTHER PERSON THAT IS PRESSING HIS BELLY INTO THE FLOOR WHICH MEANS IT IS GOING UP INTO HIS BODY CAVITY AND PRESSING ON HIS DIAPHRAGM. THAT IS HOW WE BREATHE. Reporter: THIS ATTORNEY REPRESENTS SMITH’S FAMILY. HE TELLS ME THEY ARE DEVASTATED AND OUTRAGED BY WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. THE VIDEO SHOWS VA EMPLOYEES RESTRAINT SMITH AT 2:39 P.M. NOW, OUT OF SENSITIVITY WE ARE FREEZING THE VIDEO BECAUSE 10 MINUTES LATER, AT 2:49 P.M. AN EMPLOYEE CHECKED FOR A PULSE AND LESS THAN A MINUTE LETTER THEY BEGAN CPR. THE NAVY VETERAN DID NOT SURVIVE. THE CORONER’S REPORT LIST HIS MANNER OF DEATH AS HOMICIDE. NO ONE WAS EVER CHARGED? NO ONE WAS CHARGED WITH A CRIME. NONE, 0, ZIP, A HOMICIDE AND NO ONE WAS CHARGED. SO WHO IS ACCOUNTABLE? Reporter: SMITH’S FAMILY FILED THIS CIVIL LAWSUIT AGAINST THE UNITED STATES OVER THEIR SON’S DEATH. IT IS A HORRIFYING VIDEO TO WATCH. IT IS TRAGIC. Reporter: JEREMY BUTLER SAY NAVY VETERAN, TOO, AND CEO OF THE VETERANS ORGANIZATION A ROCK AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA. — IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA. I AM ANGRY. THEY TURNED TO THE GROUP THAT IS SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF VETERANS, THE VA. THAT IS WHERE ALL OF OUR VETERANS SHOULD FEEL SAFE IN TURNING TO FOR HEALTH. Reporter: SMITH’S DEATH IS A HORRIFIC EXAMPLE OF THE LACK OF MENTAL HEALTH CARE. WE ARE ALREADY AT 20 A DAY DYING BY SUED. WE HAVE A HUGELY UNMET MENTAL CRISIS GOING ON IN THE VETERANS COMMUNITY AND THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE. THERE MUST BE CHANGE SO OUR COUNTRY’S HEROES ARE TREATED WITH HONOR. WE ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO WORK WITH THE VA AND CONGRESS AND OTHER VETERAN SERVICES. Reporter: I REACHED OUT TO THE VA AND THEY SAID THEY DO NOT COMMENT ON BENDING LITIGATION. THEY TOLD ME THOUSANDS OF VETERANS CHOOSE TO BE TREATED AT THE COLUMBIA VA HEALTH CARE SYSTEM. IN ADDITION TO OPERATING ONE EVER THE LARGEST AND MOST COMPLEX FACILITIES IN THE NATION, THE FACILITY MAINTAINS COMBINED IN PATIENT AND OUT PATIENT QUALITY STANDARDS THAT ARE IN THE TOP 15% OF THE NATION. WELL, A MANNER OF DEATH WAS RULED HOMICIDE. THE VIDEO IS EVIDENCE. NO ONE HAS OPINION CHARGED? NO, I AM TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY. I REACHED OUT TO THE SOLICITOR’S OFFICE. THEY COULD NOT ANSWER MY QUESTIONS TODAY BECAUSE OF STAFF QUESTIONS. I REACHED BACK OUT TO THE VA. I WILL KEEP YOU POSTED. I KNOW YOU WILL KEEP PUSHING, THANK YOU. THEY ARE PUSHING CONGRESS TO PASS THE COMMANDER JOHN SCOTT HANNON. IT WILL IMPROVE BEST COOLS THE SYSTEM. THEY PASSED AN ACT TWO YEARS AGO TO MAKE IT EASIER TO FIRE EMPLOYEES AND IMPROVE HEALTH CARE. TOM TILLIS SAYS HIS OFFICE IS STILL COMMITTED TO DOING THAT. WE WANT TO MAKE IT VERY CLEAR THAT ANYBODY IN THE VA IF THEY SEE SOMETHING THEY THINK IS UNACCEPTABLE THEY CAN REPORT IT AND HAVE PROTECTIONS. OUR NATION’S VETERANS TACKLE SIMILAR ISSUES EVERY SINGLE DAY. THAT IS WHY WE WANT TO SHOW YOU THIS INFORMATION AS WELL. THIS IS THE NUMBER TO CALL FOR THE MILITARY CRISIS HOT LINE. 1-800-273-8255.

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