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A Navy Veteran’s Death Was Ruled a Homicide. Why Haven’t There Been Any Charges?

In 1999, Columbia native Luke Smyth joined the U.S. Navy. He served his country for five years before being honorably discharged. Luke was diagnosed with a mental illness related to his service, and he went to the VA to get the help he needed. When Hurricane Irma hit, however, the VA facility in Charleston was evacuated, and Luke found himself at William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia.

That is where he died, at the hands of the VA medical professionals who had been charged with his care. The coroner listed “homicide” as the cause of Luke’s death.

WARNING: the following video, provided by WSOC, is graphic in nature. Viewer discretion is advised.

Attorney Randy Hood, who represents Luke’s family, sat down with Allison Latos, who spent weeks investigating this incident before reporting on it for WSOC last night:

“He is pressed flat on this floor with someone who has their arm around his throat, pressing on his carotid [artery]. Another person is on his back pressing his belly into the floor, which means it is going up into his body cavity and pressing on his diaphragm. That’s how we breathe.

No one was charged with a crime: none, zero, zip. A homicide and no one was charged. Who is going to be held accountable?”

Luke is not the only victim

Luke Smyth’s homicide is not even an outlier: a USA TODAY report has found at least 10 suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where at least two have been reclassified as homicides. A pathologist at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Arkansas has been charged with the deaths of 3 veterans, but may have been responsible for the deaths of 15 in total.

When will enough be enough?

Is it not enough that the men and women who serve this country are often denied the routine care? That approximately 20 veterans die from suicide each day, because they are not being helped? That hundreds of thousands of men and women have died simply waiting for the care that they need?

Is the bar so low that “Don’t employ restraint techniques that could kill a person” has to be on the list of rules for VA workers?

When is enough, enough?

The time for hand-wringing about VA misconduct and neglect is over. At McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC, we are fighting back on behalf of veterans and their families – and we want you to help us in this fight. Here you will find a full list of pending legislation designed to help veterans. We urge you to contact your members of Congress and ask them to move forward on these bills.

If you or a loved one has served in the military, free support is available through the Military Crisis Hotline/National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. All service members are welcome to call 1-800-273-8255, or text 838255.

The American Legion also provides a long list of resources for veterans, many of which are handled by the State of South Carolina, independent organizations and non-profit groups. You can find that list here.

McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC supports the men and women who fight for our democracy. We support the families they must leave behind to do so. If you need help, we are here. Please call 803-327-7800 or fill out this form to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.

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