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U.S. Government Appeals Judge's Ruling That VA Was Liable In Death Of Kansas City Veteran

On St. Patrick's Day, 2010, Draughon shot and killed himself. He was 28 years old.
Donald and Laurie Draughon
On St. Patrick's Day, 2010, Draughon shot and killed himself. He was 28 years old.

When a federal judge decided in July that the Veterans Health Administration was liable for the death of an Iraq veteran who was treated at the VA and later killed himself, it was thought to be one of the few instances nationwide where the VA has been held directly responsible for a veteran’s suicide.

Now the federal government is appealing that verdict.

A notice of appeal filed Wednesday said the United States is seeking review of the judgment by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, as well as her findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Robinson found the VA liable for the death of Cpl. William Draughon of Kansas City and awarded more than $480,000 in damages to Draughon’s father and his two children.

Draughon, a graduate of North Kansas City High School, was a squad leader and gunner in Iraq for seven months in 2004 before he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.

Evidence at the trial showed that after he returned to the Kansas City area, he began drinking heavily and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. During one of several hospitalizations at the Kansas City VA, he’d been flagged as being at high risk for suicide. Although no risk assessment was done, a suicide prevention coordinator at the hospital removed the high-risk flag from his electronic medical records 90 days later.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2010, after arguing with his girlfriend, Draughon shot and killed himself in front of his girlfriend and brother. He was 28 years old.

Draughon’s family, believing the VA was negligent in its care of Draughon, sued the agency for negligence. The case was tried by Robinson, who found that the VA had breached its own standards of care by removing Draughon from its high-risk list for suicides.  

Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas, which filed the notice of appeal on behalf of the government, said his office would have no comment.

“The motion speaks for itself,” Cross said.

Michael Raupp, a lawyer who represented the Draughon family, said he was “confident in the decision that Judge Robinson made – all the rulings she made throughout the course of the proceedings.”

“We’ll withhold any comment until we see the basis on which the appeal is proceeding,” he said.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies

Copyright 2018 KCUR 89.3

Dan Margolies is editor in charge of health news at KCUR, the public radio station in Kansas City. Dan joined KCUR in April 2014. In a long and varied journalism career, he has worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star and Reuters. In a previous life, he was a lawyer. He has also worked as a media insurance underwriter and project development director for a video production firm.
Dan Margolies
Dan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and moved to Kansas City with his family when he was eight years old. He majored in philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis and holds law and journalism degrees from Boston University. He has been an avid public radio listener for as long as he can remember – which these days isn’t very long… Dan has been a two-time finalist in The Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, and has won multiple regional awards for his legal and health care coverage. Dan doesn't have any hobbies as such, but devours one to three books a week, assiduously works The New York Times Crossword puzzle Thursdays through Sundays and, for physical exercise, tries to get in a couple of rounds of racquetball per week.