Monday, February 18, 2008

Dying Under the Army's Care

"The same Army that spends $160 billion on tomorrow's fighting machines is shortchanging the shell-shocked troops coming home from war in need of healing."
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008

Iraqi insurgents wounded Gerald Cassidy in the deafening blast of a roadside bomb just outside Baghdad on Aug. 28, 2006. But it took more than a year for him to die from neglect by the Army that had sent him off to war. When Cassidy returned to the U.S. last April, the Army shipped him to a hospital in Fort Knox, Ky., to get treatment for the excruciating headaches that had accompanied him home. For five months, he made the rounds of Army medical personnel, who couldn't cure a pain that grew steadily worse. Unable to make room for him in a pain-management clinic, the Army increasingly plied him with drugs to dull the torment.

At summer's end, the headaches had grown so intense that Cassidy pleaded once more for help, and his doctor prescribed methadone, a powerful narcotic. The next day, calls to Cassidy's cell phone from his wife Melissa went unanswered. After two more days without word from her husband, she frantically called the Army and urged that someone check on him. Nine hours later, two soldiers finally unlocked the door to his room. They found Cassidy slumped in his chair, dead, his laptop and cold takeout chicken wings on his desk.

The "manner of death" was summed up at the end of the 12-page autopsy: "Accident." But when he died, Cassidy had the contents of a locked medicine cabinet coursing through his body, powerful narcotics and other drugs like citalopram, hydromorphine, morphine and oxycodone, as well as methadone. The drugs--both the levels that Cassidy took and "their combined, synergistic actions," in the medical examiner's words--killed him.

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