Two Vets Checked Out of the Dallas VA Last Week. Now, They're Both Dead.
Yesterday we came across the following video, in which a woman -- identified on her YouTube page only as "Widowedtoosoon" -- grieves the loss of her husband and blames the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in part, for her husband's suicide. Next to the video was a story that appeared on Saturday in the Plano Star Courier, about an unidentified man found hanged in a La Quinta Inn at 1820 N. Central Expressway in Plano.
Unfair Park has spent the last 24 hours attempting to verify the woman's story, and we've learned a great deal during that time -- mainly, that the tale is even more tragic than initially believed, as two men are now dead following their releases from the Dallas VA last week.
Plano police have identified the man found hanged to death Thursday morning as 58-year-old Christopher N. Demopoulos, a Vietnam War veteran who was indeed released from the Dallas VA hospital on Wednesday. Unfair Park has learned that 50-year-old Pat Ahrens, also a recent patient at the Dallas VA and the last man to see Demopoulos, also killed himself over the weekend.
Late Tuesday evening, Unfair Park located Cordelia Demopoulos, who refers to her husband as Nicholas -- or, occasionally, as "Nemo." And she confirms that, yes, she made the video above -- "because I want the world to know I have a husband who is dead," she says, biting off the last two words. She also says that Nicholas tried to kill himself three times in the last month -- once, by electrocution; another time, by overdosing on the anti-anxiety drug Clonazepam.
According to Cordelia, her husband suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from a stint in Vietnam, where she says he served with the Marine Corps. She says he kept chaotic, troubling journals documenting his spiraling depression, and that his mental illness was exacerbated in the fall of 2007 after she and her husband became engaged in a contentious dispute with Hill County officials over a piece of property in Whitney.
Cordelia says that on December 14, her husband entered the Waco VA facility following an attempted drug overdose; he was released six days later. Then, in early January, he was in the Dallas VA for one more week, following another suicide attempt. His final stay in Dallas began late January 16, when he tried to kill himself using the electrical cord from a coffee grinder.
It was while Nicholas was in the Dallas VA that he met Pat Ahrens.
On Tuesday, Dawn Ahrens of Plano told Unfair Park her ex-husband Pat was in the Dallas VA because he too had been contemplating suicide. Dawn says that when the Dallas VA discharged the two late last week, Demopoulous tried unsuccessfully to find a ride to his home in Hillsboro. Instead, Dawn says, Pat gave him some money for dinner and put him up at the motel.
Dawn says her ex-husband called her last Wednesday and told her he was worried about Demopoulous. The next morning, she says, Pat got up early and rushed to the motel, where he found Demopoulous hanging from the balcony.
Ahrens says her ex was wracked with grief over the incident. Early Saturday morning, Unfair Park learned, he took his life by ingesting the very antipsychotics VA officials had given him to control his suicidal impulses.
A Plano police spokesman told Unfair Park Tuesday that Demopoulos' case was still being investigated by homicide detectives. It hasn't yet been ruled a suicide. And police are still awaiting the Collin County medical examiner's reports on both men's deaths.
But Dawn Ahrens is joining Cordelia Demopoulos in blaming the Dallas VA for having a hand in the death of her husband -- to the point where she says his family is considering litigation against the hospital.
“We blame them 100 percent,” Ahrens says. “We begged them not to discharge him, because we knew he was a danger to himself or others, and they wouldn’t listen. If they’d listened to us -- and we’re not even the professionals here -- Pat would still be alive.”
Ahrens said Pat had been checked in to the Dallas VA more than 10 times and that he suffered from bi-polar disorder. She said she had long been frustrated with the VA’s care of her ex-husband. Which isn't surprising: Only two years ago, the Dallas VA was regarded as the worst veterans facility in the entire country.
The Dallas VA cannot comment on the specifics of Ahrens and Demopoulos' cases because of privacy issues. But Susan Poff, a public affairs official at the hospital, did offer to Unfair Park tis statement: "We at VA North Texas Health Care System are deeply saddened by these families' losses. Following these tragedies we have been in contact with the family members to offer our support. We are also providing support for the [VA North Texas Health Care System] staff that provided care to these veterans and are affected by their deaths." Also, below, are the hospital's policies concerning suicide risk assessment.
Which, at the moment, doesn't mean a thing to Cordelia Demopoulos or Dawn Ahrens.
No matter the result of the police investigation, Cordelia is convinced these were "two desperate men tired of fighting their demons." She says she was upset
with Pat Ahrens for leaving her husband at the motel; now, she blames only the Dallas VA for letting them leave, without family or friends.
“Every time he’d get out, they’d make an appointment to come back, and they’d always cancel,” says Dawn Ahrens. “They would give him a bunch of meds, and, you know, certain meds work for certain people, so we’d need to go back, and then they’d cancel or schedule it six months out. We couldn’t wait six months.”
From Susan Poff, a public affairs hospital at Dallas VA:
In accordance with the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Health Care Organization's National Patient Safety Goals, VANTHCS utilizes a standardized approach for suicide risk assessment. Level of treatment and/or treatment plan is not based upon a veteran's disability rating. All patients with a primary diagnosis or presenting complaint of an emotional or behavioral problem are assessed for suicide risk. The comprehensive assessment includes evaluation and documentation of the following factors: ideation, intent and plan; risk factors; protective factors; other relevant information; clinician's overall impression; patient's immediate safety needs; and most appropriate setting for treatment. All patients and available family members are provided with instructions regarding crisis numbers and resources.
In the event of a mental health emergency, veterans are seen by a mental health provider and immediately admitted to the inpatient unit if indicated. All other veterans can be seen on the same day of their request for an appointment or will be given an appointment within 30 days if that is preferred by the veteran.
Appropriate admissions for Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Care at the Dallas VA Medical Center are generally suffering from exacerbation of mental or substance abuse disorders that place them at high immediate risk of suicide, aggression, or dangerous withdrawal. Disorganized thinking or impaired judgment posing a substantial risk of harm may also constitute appropriate criteria for admission. While under inpatient care, they participate in community meetings, medication, education, stress management and other groups.
The average length of stay is 8 days, however that varies from patient to patient, depending on the individual treatment plan. Criteria for discharge from the Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Care Unit are stabilization of symptoms and the patient is no longer at an immediate risk of suicide, aggression or dangerous withdrawal.
The National Suicide Hotline can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (1-800-273-8255). For more information on suicide prevention, visit the VA website.