Families sue Phoenix VA for $55M after 2 veterans die who sought mental health treatment

The widows of valley veterans say their soldiers would still be alive if the Phoenix VA Health Care System didn't fail them.

Both were war heroes and fathers who sought help from the hospital because they were suicidal. Now, both are dead - one by suicide the other was killed by police.

Their families are suing the VA for tens of millions of dollars.

"After our daughter was born, he was reminded of an incident in Iraq where a little girl was killed. He killed a little girl, unfortunately," said Maggie Jones, one of the widows and plaintiffs.

Her fiance, Joshua Kinnard, died nearly two weeks after he was seen at the hospital. At his last visit to the hospital, he was released just 60 hours into a 72-hour mental health hold.

"He was prescribed nothing but more pills and there was no counseling, no other options except to keep him in a drug state," Jones said.

In February 2018, she called the police for help and instead witnessed officers shoot and kill Kinnard. The Gilbert Police Department says when officers arrived, Kinnard grabbed a gun from his truck and officers, fearing for their lives, opened fire.

In another lawsuit, Iraq War veteran, Ed Hager, walked into an east valley VA clinic in June of this year.

"(He) asked for treatment, said he was experiencing dark thoughts, family was away... asked for counseling," describes attorney Richard Lyons of Hager's mental state at the time. "And instead of providing counseling or sending him to the VA in Phoenix for a 72-hour hold, they told him to give his guns to a family member and come back in 30 days."

Instead, Hager went home and took his own life.

Lyons says a Department of Defense report shows the VA lacks mental health providers because it can't recruit qualified candidates.

"It indicates the VA is paying psychiatrists and psychologists and other mental health professionals 20% less than the going rate in the private market and it takes 6-8 months to get hired.

He believes the VA should partner with private inpatient and outpatient facilities.

"I've got 8 open beds to treat veterans every day, but the VA is just not responsive," says Jason Nelson with the Exhale PTSD Recovery Center. "I think they're set in their ways and don't utilize resources available in the community."

Kinnard's family is suing for $20 million, and Hager's family is suing for $35 million.

The Phoenix VA released this statement in response to the lawsuits:

Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by these deaths. Due to privacy concerns, we will not be discussing the specifics of these cases. Suicide prevention is VA's highest clinical priority, and the department is taking significant steps to address the issue.

For more information on seeking help from the VA, visit https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/veterans-crisis-line.asp.