The wife of a deceased U.S. Marine is searching for answers six months after the death of her husband, who died from an overdose of the synthetic opioid fentanyl while seeking treatment at a VA hospital in Boston.
In a report by The Enterprise, Jamie-Lee Hasted, the wife of the now-deceased Marine Corps veteran Hank Brandon Lee, said she had spoken to her husband over the phone before his death and was preparing a care package of family photographs to send him while he received treatment for severe post-traumatic stress disorder sustained during his service.
After their conversation, Hasted said she was unable to reach her husband and later received a phone call that Lee had been found unresponsive in his living quarters and later pronounced dead at the Good Samaritan Medical Center. He was the father of three young children.
Six months later, Hasted claims that she still has no idea how her husband was able to obtain and overdose on fentanyl under the VA's watch.
"They promised me this wouldn't happen. I understand the issue, but he was on lockdown, and they're supposed to protect him from harming others and from harming himself," she told The Enterprise.
VA spokesperson Pallas Wahl said that it is still not known how Lee came into possession of the drugs. In a statement, Wahl said, "Sadly, Lance Cpl. Lee was a victim of the opioid epidemic that kills nearly six people daily in Massachusetts."
"Lance Cpl. Lee suffered a fatal overdose of fentanyl while a patient at the Brockton campus. Fentanyl was not prescribed to any patient within our inpatient psychiatry unit, and Lance Cpl. Lee had no personal visitors during his inpatient psychiatry stay," Wahl added.
The Enterprise obtained records of Lee's autopsy report and medical information, which show that he had a history of substance abuse and was suffering from PTSD after serving seven tours in Afghanistan and sustaining injuries that left him severely disabled. His wife noted that Lee had self-medicated with drugs and alcohol to cope with anxiety, depression, and hallucinations before seeking treatment at the VA.
When he arrived at the VA, Lee was found to have had several drugs already in his system, and admitted to self-medicating with marijuana. However, Lee reportedly seemed eager to get help.
On March 4, on the day of his death, records indicate that Lee was under observation with regular 15-minute checks. He was found unresponsive in his room around 5:30 p.m., having reportedly suffered cardiac arrest.
Since her husband's death, Hasted has been struggling to care for the couple's three children while trying to collect death benefits from the VA.
"I'm left with the kids. I was his caregiver and now my best friend, my partner, is gone just like that," she said.
Rick Collins the founder of Vets 360, an advocacy group for veterans, has been assisting Hasted to determine the details of her husband's death.
"We've got questions about when did he take [the drugs]? Was it a tablet, or a piece of a patch?" Collins wants to know.
As the investigation continues, the hospital says they're still trying to figure out how Lance Cpl. Lee obtained the drug, and has heightened security measures in order to prevent any more incidents.
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