VA settles with Dublin hospital suicide victim’s family for $1M

The family of a Navy veteran who committed suicide outside a central Georgia VA hospital in 2019 has settled a lawsuit for $1 million.

Gary Steven Pressley, 29, was found on April 5, 2019, in his vehicle in the parking lot of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin. The Barnesville resident had a gunshot wound to his chest.

Pressley was medically discharged from the Navy in 2012 after a car accident. His mother, Rhonda Wilson, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in February 2020 that a VA doctor abruptly stopped refilling an opioid pain-relief prescription for him, which led to a painful withdrawal period.

Pressley’s sister, Lisa Johnson, told authorities she had called the VA to report that her brother was threatening suicide. After that call, according to Wilson’s lawsuit, VA officials did nothing to help Pressley, and he killed himself.

Wilson filed an $8.2 million wrongful death claim against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other defendants in February 2020 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. The VA settled its portion of the lawsuit on Oct. 22 for $1 million, according to a court filing.

Gary Kunich, a VA spokesman, said in a statement that the VA “strives to provide excellent care to each veteran we serve. We understand there is no reversing the effects of some of our care, but if we do not meet our own high standards, we aim to provide fair and reasonable compensation.”

A separate legal claim filed by Pressley’s family against the Bobby Dodd Institute is pending, said Peter Bertling, attorney for the family. The Institute is an independent contractor that operates the switchboard at Carl Vinson VA Medical Center.

“Gary Steven Pressley served his country admirably and had been on a path to lead a long and happy life before the negligence of the Bobby Dodd Institute brought his life to a tragic close,” Bertling said in a news release.

Pressley’s family and the Bobby Dodd Institute could not be reached for comment.

Pressley’s suicide occurred during a five-day span in which three veterans committed suicide outside VA facilities. The VA has been criticized and investigated for not providing sufficient or timely help to veterans. But the rate of veteran suicides improved from 2018 to 2019, according to a September 2021 report issued by the VA, the most recent data available.