Twin Sister Files $5M Wrongful Death Suit Against VA Hospital System

It was Veteran’s Day, two years ago, when her twin sister committed suicide by overdosing on a powerful antipsychotic medication.

Darla has a pending $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against a Veterans Affairs Medical Center, alleging that her sister, Kelli Grese, was prescribed too much of the antipsychotic drug, Seroquel, which ultimately caused her untimely death on November 12, 2010.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says that on October 19, 2010, her sister, Kelli’s, Seroquel supply was increased from a 30-day to a 60-day supply. One day later, she was given “an immediate refill of the 60-day supply of Seroquel.”

“Ms. Grese committed suicide by ingesting all or a large portion of that 120-day supply of Seroquel on or about November 12, 2010,” court documents state.

A bench trial is scheduled for April 9, 2013.

Kelli attempted to use the drug to commit suicide three times earlier in 2010, March 12, May 9 and May 27– court documents show. Seroquel is prescribed for the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Kelli is described in court documents as having suffered from major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The suit also claims that the medical center’s doctors were aware that the woman previously tried to kill herself on multiple occasions, but still increased her access to medications.

In their response to the complaint, the medical center denied that its employees were negligent in Kelli Grese’s death.

The Grese twins were inseparable. They joined the Navy together after a recruiter visited their high school. The Navy respected the sisters’ desire to stay together; they went to boot camp together, shared every deployment and made every promotion together. While stationed at the Navy hospital in Naples, Italy, they shared a house off base.

On the last night of their tour in 1995, they were awakened by a burglar ransacking their bedroom. Although they were unharmed, they were both traumatized by the incident, as Darla recalls. As a result, Kelli was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1996. This post-traumatic stress disorder, combined with her frequent migraine headaches, resulted in an 80 percent service-connected disability. The twins left the Navy in 1997, after six years of service.

That was the beginning of a 13-year downward spiral, as Kelli sought help from VA doctors for many complaints, including insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Her twin, Darla, watched her deteriorate after noticing 12 different doctors had prescribed as many as 25 different medications. In addition, Kelli consulted outside doctors, who prescribed still more drugs.

Darla stated that early on, she went to speak to the Chief of Staff at the VA center and told him, “You’re killing my sister with all these pills.” Nothing changed. She said that prescription drugs continued to arrive at Kelli’s door.

Kelli was becoming increasingly paranoid. She thought her phone was being tapped, her home was bugged, that people were following her and were out to get her. She had nightmares and flashbacks. She said that she heard voices in her head telling her to harm herself.

The diagnoses kept coming: major depressive disorder; abuse of prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana; bipolar disorder. With each diagnosis, more medications came.

In March 2010, while waiting to see a doctor at the VA, Kelli took a whole bottle of Seroquel and was admitted to the intensive care unit with an acute overdose.

Two months later, she tried again. She was found in the back seat of her car on the side of the road, unresponsive. Rescue workers broke into the car and took her to the emergency room.

The third overdose occurred two weeks after that, during a visit with her mother in Pittsburgh.

On October 10, 2010, according to court papers, she told her VA doctor she was planning a return visit to Pittsburgh and didn’t want to run out of Seroquel. At her request, her doctor gave her a two-month prescription, instead of the usual one-month amount. The next day, when she picked up the medicine at the VA pharmacy, they told her it was being mailed to her. She went back to her doctor and said she couldn’t wait, was leaving town and asked for another prescription for a two-month supply. The doctor complied. She never made the trip to Pittsburgh. She then had a quadruple supply of Seroquel, most of which she ingested on November 11, 2010, at her home in Virginia Beach.

Her twin, Darla, said, “Kelli was very patriotic, which I think is why she killed herself on Veteran’s Day.”  Darla said that she is not angry with her for what she did, because, “ addiction is a disease – a disease that people don’t want to talk about. But people need to talk about it.”

This is a tragic story that never should have happened.  She was diagnosed with mental health issues for which she was given a strong drug known to have suicidal side effects. Especially after three attempts at suicide and her sister pleading with the head doctor to stop prescribing so many medications, still, she was able to obtain four times the quantity she should have had.  Now Darla has to live her life without her twin.

Do you think the doctors at VA system were negligent in Kelli’s death?  Feel free to comment on this blog post.  Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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