Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the U.S. military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him after a few days. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. [includes rush transcript]
When Americans opposed to war call for a cut off of funding, the administration responds that they don’t support the troops. But a growing number of veterans groups and military families are saying it’s the administration that’s deserted the troops.
Last week two major lawsuits were filed that could put the administration’s treatment of veterans on trial. A class-action suit on behalf of hundreds of thousands of soldiers accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs of ignoring veterans’ mental health care needs and overzealously denying medical care and benefits. The plaintiffs are two veterans groups. Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth say returning soldiers are denied care through outright rejection or the long waiting process in a backlog of some 600,000 pending claims. The suit also accuses the VA of collaborating with the Pentagon to avoid paying benefits by classifying post-traumatic stress disorder claims as pre-existing conditions. Up to 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are said to suffer or risk developing PTSD.
Just a day after the first suit, the parents of a U.S. marine who committed suicide after returning home from Iraq filed a suit alleging government failure to treat veterans cost their son his life. Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the U.S. military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him after a few days. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. The Luceys are suing the VA for negligence.
On Monday, Joyce and Kevin Lucey joined me from Chicopee, Massachusetts to talk about their son Jeffrey and the lawsuit they’ve brought over his death. Today, we spend the hour hearing their story. I began by asking Joyce Lucey about how her son came to Iraq.
- Joyce and Kevin Lucey, parents of Jeffrey Lucey.
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: When Americans opposed to war call for a cut-off of funding, the administration responds they don’t support the troops. But a growing number of veterans’ groups and military families are saying it’s the administration that’s deserted the troops.
Last week, two major lawsuits were filed that could put the administration’s treatment of veterans on trial. A class-action suit on behalf of hundreds of thousands of soldiers accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs of ignoring veterans’ mental healthcare and overzealously denying medical care and benefits. The plaintiffs are two veterans’ groups: Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth. They say returning soldiers are denied care through outright rejection or the long waiting process in a backlog of some 600,000 pending claims. The suit also accuses the VA of collaborating with the Pentagon to avoid paying benefits by classifying post-traumatic stress disorder claims as pre-existing conditions. Up to 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are said to suffer or risk developing PTSD.
Just a day after the first suit was filed, the parents of a US marine who committed suicide after returning from Iraq filed a suit alleging government failure to treat veterans cost their son his life. Joyce and Kevin Lucey say their son Jeffrey hanged himself after the US military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May of 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital. But the hospital discharged him a few days later. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. The Luceys are suing the VA for negligence.
On Monday, Joyce and Kevin Lucey joined me from Chicopee, Massachusetts to talk about their son Jeffrey and the lawsuit they’ve brought over his death. Today, we spend the hour hearing their story. I began by asking Joyce Lucey about how her son went to Iraq.
JOYCE LUCEY: Jeffrey went to Kuwait in the beginning of February of 2003, into Iraq with the initial invasion in March. He returned home to us in July of 2003. And at the beginning, we really saw — we didn’t notice any major difference, although his girlfriend said he was distant when they went away for the weekend to Cape Cod, and he told a friend that he had seen enough sand to last him a lifetime, so he really didn’t want to go on the beach.
We found out during the fall that he was vomiting on a daily basis. We encouraged him to go to the doctor on that. And they went more for a physical reason, rather than a psychological, and now, looking back, it might have been the PTSD starting. And then he progressed onto Christmas Eve, where he threw the dog tags at his sister and called himself a murderer. From there to nightmares, which I heard him yelling out, and to which he said he was fine, that he was just having a dream that he was caught in an alleyway and they were coming after him.
And then Jeffrey went back to college. He had been in college since September, after his return, went back to college in January and was fine until March, when they have their college break. And at that point, he got very depressed, drinking, and couldn’t go back to school, even though he didn’t actually tell me that. But he would go and come home early and say class had ended early or the professor didn’t show up. So I didn’t really know he wasn’t attending classes, but he was having panic attacks, and when he finally did say something, he said he just couldn’t stay in class. And he was also having a startled response, if somebody would slam a door. So he went to our primary care physician at that point and was put on Prozac and Ativan to see if it could keep him in class.
And it just continued on from there, the inability to sleep, the lack of appetite, the social seclusion.
Do you recall further?
KEVIN LUCEY: He had a lot of different things. There was hallucinations that started with the visual, the audio, tactile. He would talk about hearing camel spiders in his room at night, and he actually had a flashlight under his bed for which he could use to search for the camel spiders. His whole life was falling apart, and it was very hard.
And what also happened was that the family was being impacted tremendously, but we adapted to it. We didn’t even recognize that we were going through our own horrors.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, Joyce said that at Christmas he threw the dog tags. What dog tags?
KEVIN LUCEY: He threw the dog tags that his girlfriend had spoken to us about that concerned her. He had his dog tag, and then there was — from a story that Jeff shared with us, he had two other dog tags, Iraqi, that were from men that he said that he knew he killed. And he would never take those dog tags off. The only two times that we know the dog tags were taken off was on December 24th of 2003, when he threw them at his sister, and then we — I found it on his bed on June 22nd, 2004, the day he died.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you know who these men were and what the circumstances were? He said he killed them?
KEVIN LUCEY: The story that he shared with us, he shared with myself and his sister, was basically that they were two unarmed Iraqi men and that he was in close proximity and somebody had told him to pull the trigger. And —
AMY GOODMAN: Somebody?
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. We don’t know who. We don’t know who. We don’t know if it was a member of his unit or if it was an officer. We aren’t sure. He never shared that with us. But what happened was that he did speak about how the gun was shaking when he did it, and he was looking at the young man, especially one of them, and he said — he said that it could have been him. It was a young man who he was wondering about, whose son he was, whether he was a father, his parents. And that was part of the emotional toll. His therapist came up to us afterwards and stated to us very directly that Jeff wore the dog tags to honor those two men that he knew he killed, not as trophies.
AMY GOODMAN: And these were Iraqis.
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. There was another agency that looked into it, and what they did was they were able to translate them. And it was a man from Babylon and a man from Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: As the months went by, Jeffrey started to wear his uniform on the street? Did he ever engage in combat when he came home or feel like he had to carry a gun around for protection?
JOYCE LUCEY: No, the only time Jeffrey ever wore his uniform after he came back, that we’re aware of anyway, is on — I believe it was June 12. He climbed out his window around midnight, and he got in a car that our neighbors, a couple of the girls, were in, asked them to drive him to a place where he could get some liquor. And they were kind of scared, because Jeffrey had a modified pellet gun and two K-Bars on him. Jeffrey never wore his uniform. That was just so out of character. That wasn’t my son. When he first joined the Marines, and I believe we had picked him up from boot camp, and it was like, "I don’t wear my uniform anyplace. That’s just something we don’t do." So that was totally out of character. And these girls did bring him home, and it was scary to see him get out of the car. He just didn’t look like my son.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about dealing with the VA and why you have sued the VA.
KEVIN LUCEY: Well, I think that the primary reason is that what happened to Jeff should never have happened. Jeff was so afraid to go to the VA, because he was afraid that the military would find out. And it’s that stigma issue. And so, therefore, we called anonymously, and we described the symptoms, and they told us that that’s classic PTSD and get him in as soon as possible. And what happened was, Jeff finally did agree to go in, but he delayed it until May 28th, on Friday.
And when I was bringing Jeff to them, I really did think that we were bringing him to the arms of the angels, because they were going to save him. They were going to deal with Jeff’s problems. And it took us about six hours to get him committed. They tried to talk him into going in voluntarily, but Jeff refused to.
So Jeff was finally committed, and he tried to leave the building, but the nursing staff and the police had to go after him. But they brought him back in. He was there for about three-and-a-half days. He was discharged on June 1st. And what we discovered — and this was about a year afterwards — that there was a psychiatrist that saw him upon the admission, and then there was the psychiatrist who saw him at the discharge, but no psychiatrist saw him at all during those two times.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean, during the entire time he was committed, he was not seen by a psychiatrist, except for being admitted and for being released?
KEVIN LUCEY: Correct.
JOYCE LUCEY: And it was two different psychiatrists, so there really was no continuity in the care.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did they release him?
JOYCE LUCEY: Because he was not showing homicidal or suicidal ideations. He was coherent. She didn’t think he was a threat to himself or others.
KEVIN LUCEY: But during this time, Amy, we need to emphasize that Jeff had revealed to them three ways that he had planned to commit suicide. He told them that he would suffocate himself, he would overdose or he would hang himself. He also shared with the psychiatrist how he had bought a hose. And, of course, on the following, of June 5th, when we tried to admit him the second time, and the VA declined, Joyce and I went through the house, we took everything that he could hurt himself with, but we never thought of a hose.
AMY GOODMAN: When did he tell them about this three ways he would commit suicide? Did he tell the admitting doctor or the one who released him a few days later?
JOYCE LUCEY: It’s in the records that he told a staff, I believe.
KEVIN LUCEY: It was during that time.
JOYCE LUCEY: Yeah, I believe was — what? Was it Friday night, when he was admitted?
KEVIN LUCEY: Maybe.
AMY GOODMAN: But they didn’t tell you.
JOYCE LUCEY: No. Oh, no.
KEVIN LUCEY: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Joyce and Kevin Lucey. Their son committed suicide June 22, 2004. We’ll come back to their story after break.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Joyce and Kevin Lucey. They’re suing the Veterans Administration for responsibility in their son’s suicide. Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey took his own life after the VA denied him treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. On June 1st, 2004, Jeffrey was released from the VA hospital after he had been involuntary committed by his family. I asked them to talk about that time after he was released.
JOYCE LUCEY: He totaled the family car on Thursday, June 3rd, not by drinking. He landed between two trees. The police brought him home. They did a Breathalyzer, and they said he was fine. Then on Saturday, his sister was graduating from a local college, and Jeffrey took his own car there. By the time he got there, he was totally impaired, barely able to walk. I believe it was a fire officer — was it?
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes.
JOYCE LUCEY: — kind of guided him into where we were, and it was just a shock to see him come in. I thought, oh, my god. And from that point, we went home to try to continue Debbie’s graduation, and Jeffrey was — his balance was off. He was slurring his words. He was trying to borrow my mother’s car to go buy his sister a gift. It was just — it was very difficult.
So we called the VA and explained what was going on, and they said, "He’s worse than he was last week. He sounds worse than he was last week. Bring him right in." So after convincing Jeffrey, which it took a bit of time to get him into the car, he went back with my two daughters, my son-in-law and my dad, because he didn’t want my husband going, because he had been involuntarily committed the following — the earlier weekend, and he felt that my husband might have had something to do with it. So they brought him there, and Jeffrey was very intelligent, very smart, and he knew enough not to go into the building. So he spoke to them outside. He sat on a wall. And they decided that he wasn’t saying what he needed to say to get involuntarily committed.
Later, we were to find out that they never called a psychiatrist or anybody that could have evaluated him that had the power to involuntarily commit him. So Jeffrey ended up coming back home. My daughters were crying. They called us up, and they said they’re not going to take him in. And they have this all on the record. It said that the grandfather was pleading for his grandson to be admitted.
So, when they said they were bringing him home, we panicked. And we went in his room, and we took everything: his knives from Iraq and his — anything that we found, bottles of liquor, his car was disabled. We did whatever we thought to keep him safe. And my husband, during this time, also called the civilian authorities in our area, and they said they could do nothing, because he was drinking. So, in a crisis situation, there was nobody to turn to.
AMY GOODMAN: So they said they could do nothing because he was drinking. Is that a sign of PTSD, as well?
KEVIN LUCEY: It is.
JOYCE LUCEY: Yes. Now, this is the civilian authorities, not the VA.
AMY GOODMAN: And the VA, did they say he had to stop drinking in order to be treated?
JOYCE LUCEY: They said that the very first time, that they would not assess him for PTSD until he was alcohol-free.
KEVIN LUCEY: So, therefore, Jeff never got assessed for PTSD.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about a therapist coming to the house — scheduled, at least?
KEVIN LUCEY: Well, I brought Jeff down to the Vet Center in Springfield on Main Street, and we had about a three-hour appointment. And Jeff invited me in for the assessment, so I was there when we were given information. And Jaime, who was the therapist assigned to work with Jeff, stated that what he was going to do was he was going to plan to come out to the house three times a week and that — and look for some available resource, because there’s very few beds for PTSD.
So what happened was, on Tuesday, from what we understand, Jaime called Jeff and did speak to Jeff Tuesday afternoon and got directions from Jeff to how to come to our house. And from what I understand, I believe that he left about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, but he got lost, and he never made it to our house. I believe he found himself in Amherst at 7:00 in the evening, and that’s when he decided to go back home.
AMY GOODMAN: In those last hours before he died, the day before, can you describe Jeffrey’s behavior, Kevin? Describe Jeffrey crawling into your lap.
KEVIN LUCEY: Well, Monday night, when I got home, Jeffrey was in a total rage. He was pacing through the house. He was angry at the war, angry at everything. And I was trying to get him to calm down. And then he started talking of suicide. And he felt abandoned. He didn’t know where to go.
At that point, I called the Vet Center, and I told them what was going on. And the Vet Center was tremendous. They spoke to me, got me to calm down, because we were all distraught by this time. And then they spoke to Jeff. And substantially Jeff was very calm after the phone call. They advised me to call the police, if necessary.
And what happened was that Jeff and I then started talking while I was doing some work. And then what happened with Jeff was — it was about 11:30 at night, and everything was very — I was exhausted, Jeff was exhausted, but he kept talking, and then finally he asked me if he would be able to sit in my lap. And so, forty-five minutes we rocked in silence. And the therapist told us after Jeff died that that was no doubt his last place of refuge, his last safe harbor that he felt that he could go to.
The next morning — I stayed up ’til about 2:00 or 3:00 until Jeff went to bed, and he was calm. And then I got up, went to work. And then, of course, it was at 6:45 Tuesday evening that I came home.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened when you came home?
KEVIN LUCEY: I was talking on the cell phone to Joyce, and I said, "Jeff, no doubt, is lying in front of the TV." And so I told her I would call her back. So I went into the house, and I couldn’t find Jeff. I went to his bedroom, and the one thing I noted was that his dog tags were laying on his bed. I then went out to the porch, to the deck. He wasn’t there.
And so, then I went through the addition, and I saw the cellar door open. I could see a light on, and I caught some pictures that were laying on the floor, and in the center was his platoon picture. And I could see other pictures. So I went downstairs. My focus was on the pictures, because I couldn’t understand why they were there. When I went up to the pictures, the platoon picture had blood on it. The picture of each of his sisters were on each side of the platoon picture, and then there was pictures of the family in a half-circle.
Then I saw Jeff, and Jeff was, I thought, standing at first, until I saw the hose double-looped around his neck. I went running over there, and I pushed Jeff up with my knees. And that was the last time he ever sat in my lap. I took the hose from around his neck, and I laid him down onto the floor, trying to make him comfortable. And at that point, I tried to rub his chest, because I thought I felt some warmth there. Otherwise he was very cold. So then I went upstairs and called the police.
AMY GOODMAN: That was June 22, 2004?
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. It was Tuesday, June 22nd.
AMY GOODMAN: Did Jeffrey leave a suicide note?
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes. He left a number of notes that were downstairs. And then we found notes afterwards. It appeared on June 22nd he wrote a note that the police had taken. We didn’t know about it until about a year after. And it was, "It’s 4:35 p.m., and I’m near completing my death." So that gave us a little bit more information to look at. But in the notes, he complained of being weak, how he loved his childhood. He did. But he said he couldn’t put up with the pain anymore, and he really just thought that going out that way would be the best way for him to resolve.
JOYCE LUCEY: No, but he mentions in the notes that he was hoping that —
AMY GOODMAN: Joyce.
JOYCE LUCEY: — I guess — yes, this is Joyce — that he could have died a different way, that he didn’t want to do it the way it happened, which goes back to maybe the car crash. And I remember mentioning to Jeffrey before he died that he was making me very nervous, I was really getting scared for his safety. And he said, "Don’t worry, Ma. No matter what I do, I always come back." So he wanted to go out, but he didn’t want it to be by his own hand. And he does say in the note that he thought long and hard about how it was going to affect the family. And he said, "For that, I’m truly sorry."
AMY GOODMAN: In looking at the reports of the note, it said also, "I am weak and cannot deal with the emotional pain."
KEVIN LUCEY: Yeah. Yup.
JOYCE LUCEY: That, I think, was — there was a note that we found behind the TV several days after Jeffrey died, when we were going through his room. And I believe that was something he was — well, like, almost like a draft, you know? And I look back, and I think that maybe I interrupted him a couple of times, because Jeff never locked his bedroom door. And there was a couple of times when I went to the door to see if he was OK, that it was locked, and he said, "Oh, just a minute, Ma." And then he had me come in. And I’m thinking that I just might have interrupted him writing that, because, like I said, it was put behind the TV.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s more than three years after that day, Tuesday, June 22, when Jeffrey killed himself. Why have you decided now to sue the Veterans Administration and the head, who’s stepping down now, Jim Nicholson, the VA secretary?
KEVIN LUCEY: There are so many reasons. First of all, it wasn’t an easy decision for us to make. One of the most important reasons, though, is what happened to Jeffrey shouldn’t have happened to anyone, never mind a veteran. And there’s a number — we decided a long time ago that we couldn’t make an objective decision about whether Jeff was treated right or wrong, and we went out seeking objectivity. And that was important to us, because we just felt that things didn’t make sense. Then we got records afterwards.
One of the things you have to understand, we felt that we were — we weren’t treated right by the VA after Jeff died. We did call there about a week after, and we went to the VA. We got some records of Jeff. And that just made us more curious, and we wanted to get the full records of Jeff, so I wrote under the Freedom of Information Act a request to get all his records. Well, then we started correspondence back and forth. I was being too broad in my request, what have you. And then, finally, they sent us a Freedom of Information Act exemption. And that infuriated us. We couldn’t understand why. And so, that’s when anger started really filtering in, and that’s when we also found out about Jeff having revealed the three ways that he was going to commit suicide to himself, a number of factors. So what happened — and also, the diagnosis of Jeff turned out to be alcohol dependency, mood disorders, secondary to alcoholism. And I was infuriated that there was no mention of PTSD. There was no mention of the cause. So that just got us more angry.
And then we met Attorney Bonifaz. And Attorney Bonifaz said that he would try to help us if he could. And so, that’s when a federal tort claim was laid. But then, all of a sudden, we read in the Boston Globe an article by Charlie Sennott which reported the January 16, 2007 suicide of Jonathan Schulze of Stewart, Minnesota. And that immediately infuriated us, that two-and-a-half years after our son died, after the VA had given us assurances through their inspector general that problems have been resolved and the chances of having another Jeffrey was small, it was all over again. And so, at that point we knew that this administration, the past congresses, for sure, never have addressed this problem over the past few years. And there’s only been very few voices asking for help for our veterans, with Senator Kerry being one. So at this point we felt that we had to do something, because with each passing day, who else is putting a rope around their neck or a gun to their head? And it seems like no one cares.
AMY GOODMAN: Joyce and Kevin Lucey’s son, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey, committed suicide after returning from Iraq. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll come back to the conclusion of this discussion in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to the last part of my interview with Joyce and Kevin Lucey. They’re suing the Veteran Administration for negligence in the suicide of their son, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey. I asked them about how they’ve dealt with their loss.
JOYCE LUCEY: The group Military Families Speak Out was essential in giving us a reason to keep going. They’re very supportive. And it really helped us during a time when we were in deep shock. It took us about six months to even be able to really understand that Jeffrey was never coming back.
Our family has been very difficult. We have one daughter that is very vocal against this war of choice, against the lack of care that we feel that they were not prepared to give our veterans when they returned. And I have another child that is more — would prefer that this not be brought out in public and that we just stay at home, which is something that my husband and I felt we couldn’t do. From the very beginning, we felt if we could help another family avoid what we went through, we felt we had to do that. You know, we just had no other choice.
At the time, there was never any thought of a lawsuit or going where we are right now. But it’s just been — we’ve taken one day at a time, and this is where we find ourselves right now. This is the way that we feel we can bring attention to the lack of care and the lack of planning in the care. They sent our boys out and women out, and they did not plan for their return.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, you, yourself, are a therapist?
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of therapy do you do?
KEVIN LUCEY: I work with sex offenders, rapists and child molesters who are in the community.
AMY GOODMAN: And in dealing with this, as you deal with this over the years, has it changed your view of your community, of the military? Have other people reached out to you now, even in terms of learning from you dealing with someone who has come back from the war and suffering?
KEVIN LUCEY: There’s — I know this is going to sound strange, but there has been small blessings out of everything. First of all, as Joyce said, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families Speak Out, they have been enormously important in our lives.
I think one of the biggest things that got destroyed in my mind was my perception of the American government. I couldn’t believe and I can’t believe even until today that the government would have never prepared for the soldiers upon their return home. It was more of an afterthought. Even now, even now, even with all the money that they’ve been investing and all the Blue Star commissions, Blue Ribbon commissions, they aren’t really dealing with what they need to deal with. Not one military family, I noticed, was ever appointed to any of the Blue Star commissions. And I thought that that was a horrible slap in all of our faces. So, right now, due to the fact that this administration and due to the fact that past congresses haven’t done anything, it’s the whole — the phrase of the government by the people, for the people, by the people — I think we have to do something.
We have other families who have joined with us. We have about ten other families that we know that their loved ones committed suicide, and it’s been related to the war. And we were hoping to gather in Washington in June, but that wasn’t able to be. But now we are seeing people standing with us. And there are so many other soldiers. Other veterans have come to us. We have a young man, Eli, who we met in Washington. And he’s a soldier, and he stated to us, "Please keep talking, because we can’t speak for ourselves." And so, when you get the kind of reinforcement and kind of feedback like that, we’re going to do this, no doubt, to the four corners of the earth and until the day we die.
AMY GOODMAN: Looking at some of the figures, the first quarter of 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the California Nurses Association, treated over 20,000 Iraq vets for post-traumatic stress disorder with a backlog of 400,000 cases. And a returning soldier has to wait an average of 165 days for a VA decision on initial disability benefits. That’s about half a year. How do those figures fit into your son’s case? And there is another lawsuit that has been brought, overall, on these issues. Why did you not decide — why did you decide not to join that lawsuit?
KEVIN LUCEY: Are you talking of the class-action suit by the veteran groups?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
KEVIN LUCEY: Because in regards to a wrongful death suit, there are so many individual variables that are so specific to that incident that we couldn’t join the class-action suit. That’s what our attorney had told us. Number two, we never knew that a class-action suit was being brought forward by those veterans, and we can only applaud those veterans and the veterans’ organizations, because at least they’re trying to help their own while they’re still breathing.
AMY GOODMAN: Is Jeffrey considered an Iraq war casualty?
JOYCE LUCEY: No. No, he’s not. If he had died over in Iraq, yes, he would be. But he came home and took his life here. So he’s not a casualty, even though we know he is a casualty of that war.
KEVIN LUCEY: He’s unknown, uncounted and unacknowledged by his government or by the nation.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you want him to be acknowledged, his life remembered?
JOYCE LUCEY: I guess I’d like Jeffrey to be known as someone who wanted to help people. When he came back from Iraq, he said that’s what he wanted to do now. He wanted to help. So through what we’re trying to do, it’s like Jeffrey’s outreaching to help other people. We’re hoping that some good will come out of this lawsuit in the form of better healthcare for the veterans. And that would be something that Jeffrey would be proud of.
KEVIN LUCEY: And we want Jeff’s legacy — and it’s not only Jeff. We want to really emphasize that. We have people who have died the same way, T.J. Sweet, Philip Kent, Jason Cooper, and so many others, known and unknown. We want their legacy to be that they have saved others, that through the mistakes that the government had made with them and through mistakes that we also made, that we all have learned and were able to come, especially in this country, with the most effective, the most responsive, viable VA healthcare system that can be afforded and that can be given to our veterans.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there’s criminal liability here, that laws have been broken in dealing with these injured vets who are coming home?
KEVIN LUCEY: We have to leave that up to a court. I’m not a lawyer. I don’t have that kind of knowledge. In our souls, in our hearts, we believe what was done to Jeff was totally immoral, and it was not deserving of this country.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you tell other parents who are going through what you went through, leading up to Jeffrey’s suicide on June 22, 2004, how they should deal?
JOYCE LUCEY: Well, I think, with what we know now, at least what I know now, I would be much more proactive. I would be in their faces. I remember telling them that my son is slowly dying. And now that I look back, I’m thinking, well, you know, why wasn’t I yelling it from the rooftops? Why wasn’t — I don’t know where I would have gone, but they would have heard me. Somebody would have heard me. I don’t think when you actually are going through it that you ever think that your child is going to die. You know, if you really thought that — I know we were panicked. We panicked during that time. We were in crisis ourselves. But we never thought our child was going to die. Now, I would just say, you know, you just get in their faces, and you have to demand — and whether you have to go to your senators or your representatives or whoever, you do whatever you have to to get care for your child.
AMY GOODMAN: Was Jeffrey afraid of being dishonorably discharged if it came to be known that he was troubled?
KEVIN LUCEY: Yes.
JOYCE LUCEY: Yes.
KEVIN LUCEY: He was afraid. That’s what we were talking about, the stigma earlier, the fears that are created by the system itself and the fears that are created from within the person. He was afraid, number one, that he was letting down all the other men in his unit, that he was going to be a disappointment to the Marine Corps, that he was weak. And as you read from his letter, Amy, I think the weakness was the final straw.
See, with PTSD, it’s a psychological journey that, unless you’ve experienced it, you never know how it goes. And that’s one of the most tragic things about all this, and that there are so many others dealing with PTSD. And people will erroneously just look at the alcohol, will look at the drug addiction, and not look at the shattered spirit.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Is there anything else that you’d like to add, as we wrap up this conversation today?
KEVIN LUCEY: I, for one, would just plead for the people to finally demand from the government to really take care of our troops. We’ve heard so many politicians. We’ve heard people from the administration get up and tell us how much they support the troops, and we get so infuriated and so angry when we hear that, because we also know that a year ago they deleted $80 million from a budget for specifically the treatment of PTSD. It never made it out of conference committee. And if that’s the way they support the troops, then we need to do something about Congress, because they certainly have let so many men and women down.
AMY GOODMAN: I have one last question. There was an investigation into what your son claimed, what Jeffrey said about being forced to shoot these two Iraqis. The military said that his claim wasn’t true. What have you come to believe about that situation?
JOYCE LUCEY: I think we’ve always believed Jeffrey. And in light of so many stories coming out, since we first came out with what Jeffrey said, it makes Jeffrey’s situation more believable, at least to us. And as parents, it really, to us, didn’t make a difference what caused Jeffrey’s PTSD. We know that he came back different, so something happened to him over there.
KEVIN LUCEY: And the most important thing, from our perspective, is that, in regards to Jeff —- oh, I just lost my train of thought. I’m sorry. There was something -—
AMY GOODMAN: I asked about the initial — the findings by the military, of Captain Pat Kerr saying the claim he was forced to shoot unarmed Iraqi soldiers was without merit.
KEVIN LUCEY: Well, I think one of the things — and I said this caution immediately. I said an agency investigating itself, I have a lot of problems with that. Independence is an issue. But, as Joyce said, and I can only echo Joyce, we fully believe our son. We will stand by our son. And this is why we are here now.
JOYCE LUCEY: If I could add, when we look back at his letters, he did write something to the effect of, in April, that he would like to erase the last month of his life, that he felt he had done immoral things. And we can’t possibly believe that he was planning on making up stories so he was writing this kind of thing in his letters. And if you understand what I’m trying to say, but this was way back when he was over in Iraq and his letters were coming home. And he said that he had seen and done enough horrible things to last him a lifetime. So he wasn’t specific, but all these little things put together also make us believe that what Jeffrey was telling us was probably the truth.
KEVIN LUCEY: And the greatest testimony to Jeff lies over at Island Pond Cemetery, his grave.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
KEVIN LUCEY: Well, what I mean is that Jeff felt an overwhelming guilt in regards to whatever happened over there, and Jeff shared the stories only with very few. He never really went beyond the family, except for the professionals that were involved. And he never bragged. And his statements were always consistent. There wasn’t any change. If a person is lying or bragging, it’s never going to be consistent. There’s always going to be some facts that have changed. In regards to Jeff, they didn’t. So, at this point, by the very virtue he felt so horrible that the only way he could escape the pain was through his own self-inflicted death, I think that gives the greatest testimony.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin and Joyce Lucey. Their son Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey committed suicide after returning from Iraq. Pentagon figures show at least 116 active-duty suicides in Iraq. That figure doesn’t include dozens more under investigation, nor those who took their lives after returning home, like Jeffrey. That number could have grown last week. On Friday, twenty-three-year-old Noah Charles Pierce was found dead in northern Minnesota. Police are calling his death an apparent suicide. Charles Pierce had been diagnosed with PTSD after returning from Iraq.