Tags: VA | Indiana | veteran suicides | paid leave

VA Email Mocking Vets' Suicides Adds to Mother's Anguish

By    |   Friday, 13 Mar 2015 11:51 AM

The mother of a soldier who took his own life is demanding answers after learning that an Indiana VA clinic manager who mocked veteran suicides has been put on paid administrative leave.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," said Sheri Russell, whose son, Shane Miles, a 21-year-old Army private, committed suicide in September, less than a month before he had been scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan.

"It brings a lot of pain and hurt," Russell told the Indianapolis Star after learning more about the email sent by Robin Paul, manager of a program to help veterans with mental-health problems at Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis.

The disturbing Dec. 14 email contained photographs of a toy Christmas elf posing as a patient at the hospital. One image shows an elf begging for anxiety medication with a sticky note reading: "Out of XANAX – please help!"

Another picture shows the elf hanging itself from a strand of Christmas lights. A caption reads: "Caught in the act of suicidal behavior (trying to hang himself from an electrical cord)."

Russell said the images hit close to home for her "because my son hung himself." The suicide occurred Sept. 22 at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Russell says her family is working to recover from the shock. "My emotions are still raw and it's still fresh to me."

She said her grief turned into anger after learning about the email mocking veterans' suicides.

Russell wants the VA supervisor who sent the email fired, and she wants to know why hospital administrators – who knew about the email months ago, according to the Star – were so slow in taking action.

Hospital director Tom Mattice apologized for the email Tuesday. He called Paul's e-mail message "completely and totally unacceptable" and said it "in no way reflects the attitudes of our staff toward our patients."

Mattice asked veterans "to accept my apology for this failure, and to allow us to continue to demonstrate to you our commitment to your health and well-being."

Paul has also apologized for sending the e-mail.

But Mrs. Russell says the apologies ring hollow.

"For her to mock it or make fun of it and then say she didn't mean to offend anyone – then what was she trying to do?" Russell told the Star. "There's no compassion, no sensitivity. She doesn't deserve her job."

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The mother of a soldier who took his own life is demanding answers after learning that an Indiana VA clinic manager who mocked veteran suicides has been put on paid administrative leave.
VA, Indiana, veteran suicides, paid leave
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2015-51-13
Friday, 13 Mar 2015 11:51 AM
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