The Veterans Administration has not said how it monitored U.S. Army veteran Brieux Dash of Palm Springs before his March 14 death.

RIVIERA BEACH — When Brieux Dash, confined at the VA Medical Center after threatening suicide, left group therapy March 14 and refused to go to dinner, hospital workers left him alone in his room. The 33-year-old U.S. Army veteran was to be checked every 15 minutes.

A worker showed up as scheduled 15 minutes later, at 6 p.m. Dash already was dead. The Palm Springs man had hanged himself.

Suicides often are not reported, and if they are, most details, including the name of a victim, are withheld for reasons of privacy and sensitivity. But Dash's family has been transparent about his death, speaking with The Palm Beach Post and even posting details on a webpage to raise money for his family.

Information from the family, and reports by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner and Palm Springs police, detail the last days, and the last minutes, of a life filled with love and family and promise, but also burdened with dark memories and psychological problems.

One outfit providing few details is the Veterans Administration itself.

The federal agency did say the suicide was the first at the medical center in Riviera Beach in at least five years, and that during the same period, two other attempts were blocked. But it said it will not provide any documents related to its investigation of the March 14 suicide, citing privacy rules and an ongoing investigation.

It declined this week to answer a list of specific questions submitted by The Post, some about general policy and others about the circumstances surrounding Dash's death. A spokeswoman instead referred to a previous statement saying: "Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by this untimely death. We are currently working with local and federal officials to investigate this issue and cannot comment further at this time."

10 years in the Army

Dash's mother, Shenita Nelson-Simmons, said the VA hasn't been forthcoming with her either.

"I wish they were," she said from Rochester, New York. "Everyone that I have spoken with has been very nice. They have been taking to me. But they just can't give me no information."

Dash, who grew up in upstate New York, lived in Palm Springs with his wife of 13 years and three children. He recently had received a degree in information technology from Palm Beach State College. He was related to people in the military both by blood and marriage. He'd been in the Army from about 2005 to about 2015. He'd gone twice to Iraq, each time for about 18 months. And come home with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

For weeks, his family said, he had had trouble sleeping and acted erratically. Several times, relatives said, he had admitted to suicidal thoughts.

At about 2 a.m. March 11, Dash's wife called Palm Springs police. A police report says he was throwing things and indicated to officers he'd contemplated suicide. Officers took him to the VA Medical Center's emergency department at Blue Heron Boulevard and Military Trail, to be confined for mental evaluation under the state's Baker Act. The VA will not confirm that was how Dash landed at the hospital.

The medical examiner report said Dash checked in at 3 a.m. to the center's psychiatric ward. The VA declined to confirm that it has a dedicated psychiatric ward, or say when it opened, and how many rooms and beds it has.

The medical examiner's report said welfare checks on Dash were set for 15-minute intervals. Dash's wife “felt he would be safe, monitored and get help he needed there,” the family said on a money-raising page.

The family said it spoke to Dash on March 13, and relatives believed he was improving and would be home by that Friday.

But, according to the medical examiner's report, on the afternoon of March 14, Dash learned he would not be released right away. Whether that meant his Baker Act confinement had been extended or the hospital was holding him longer for some other reason is not known. The VA will not say. Baker Act records are not public. Dash's mother said a social worker told her that day his release was planned for later in the day.

Shenita Nelson-Simmons had told The Post last week that her son had planned to drive up after he left the VA center March 14. The medical examiner's report said he'd called and asked her to set up a ride-share account so he could go home, pack and head out of town with his youngest son.

She told The Post she called the center the afternoon of March 14 — at 5 p.m. according to the medical examiner's report — and a person hung up.

She called again and was told to call back later because, "There's an emergency going on."

She called again and was told her son was "unavailable."

Twenty minutes later, she told The Post, she got a call that he had died. The medical examiner's report placed that call at 6:40 p.m., three minutes after doctors in the VA center's emergency room declared Dash dead.

The medical examiner's report said Friday it received medical records but no incident report from the VA. It had not received the medical records when it posted its report.

Answers sought

The VA will not confirm the 15-minute welfare checks, specify how it has changed patient-monitoring protocols or explain how it is reviewing its processes.

It also declined to say if it intensifies monitoring beyond 15-minute checks if a person has become agitated, or, if so, whether that enhanced monitoring was employed in this case. It also will not say if anyone has been disciplined as a result of Dash's death.

The VA will not say if its patient-care assistants are exempt from the certification that Florida requires of people doing the same work in other private and public hospitals that are licensed by the state. It will not say if some of those people have no experience with mental-health patients and in some cases were transferred to those duties from other departments. And it will not say if any of those people have criminal records, including for violent felonies.

Dash’s suicide took place 15 days after a patient opened fire in the center’s emergency room, injuring two people. The medical center said at the time it would add safeguards but had not specified them as of Friday.

It also occurred as several VA centers across the nation have had to respond to a patient taking his or her own life. The Washington Post reported in January that 19 suicides occurred on VA campuses from October 2017 to November 2018, seven of those in parking lots.

As of Friday morning, the Dash family's www.GoFundMe.com webpage had raised more than $8,000 toward a $15,000 goal. Dash was buried Monday at the veterans’ cemetery west of Boynton Beach.

SUICIDE HELP

Nationwide, more than 6,000 veterans killed themselves every year between 2005 and 2016, the most recent year for which VA statistics are available. The VA says any veteran in distress can call its crisis line any time at 800-273-8255.

This story appeared on PalmBeachPost.com, and was shared to GateHouse Media's Florida sites.