Accountability Moment: Doctor Fired After Negligent Death of Wounded Soldier in Fort Knox Barracks

Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)

Dead soldier’s doctor is fired: Psychiatrist treated veteran at Fort Knox

January 18, 2008, Fort Knox, Kentucky – A psychiatrist who treated Sgt. Gerald Cassidy, the wounded Iraq veteran from Indiana found dead in his Fort Knox barracks, has been “relieved of his duties,” a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh said yesterday.

Bayh press secretary Jonathan Swain identified the psychiatrist as Dr. William Kearney.
The civilian doctor, contracted by the Army, is the fourth person to face job action in connection with the Sept. 21 death. Three soldiers in Cassidy’s chain of command have already lost their posts.

Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, has linked the Westfield man’s death to inadequate staffing and problems with care at the Fort Knox Warrior Transition Unit, which opened in June and is devoted to healing the wounds of war.

“The fact that (Kearney) has been relieved of his duties confirms the validity of the questions Sen. Bayh and the family have been asking,” Swain said.

Although the Army is still investigating the death and its cause, preliminary reports show that the brain-injured National Guardsman may have been unconscious for days and dead for hours before someone checked on him.

Cassidy left a wife, a 5-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.

“This was a beautiful young man who did nothing wrong,” said Cassidy’s mother, Kay McMullen of Carmel, Ind.

She declined to comment specifically on the psychiatrist, but said: “The Army killed him with incompetent care.”

Bayh is seeking clarification from the Army about whether Kearney’s departure is temporary or permanent, and Kearney could not be reached for comment.

Constance Shaffery, public affairs officer at Fort Knox, confirmed that the psychiatrist is no longer working at Ireland Army Community Hospital but would not comment further, saying it is a personnel matter.

She also confirmed that representatives of Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut were on the base yesterday, although she said “it isn’t primarily about Sgt. Cassidy.”

“Staffers from the offices of Senators Lieberman and Boxer came to Fort Knox as one in a series of visits to Army installations to look at mental health care and Warrior Transition Units throughout the Army,” Shaffery said. “Our elected officials often send staffers to visit Fort Knox and other Army posts to learn more (about) the Army and our missions.”

Lieberman is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Boxer has been working with other senators to examine mental health care for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Natalie Ravitz, Boxer’s communications director, said the visit is part of a series of planned visits to bases nationwide, “but Sgt. Cassidy’s death did prompt our staff to move up their visit to Fort Knox.

“One of the issues Senators Boxer and Lieberman have been looking at closely is treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD,” Ravitz said.

Cassidy, 32, suffered brain injuries in a roadside blast in Iraq and was assigned to one of 35 transition units that were created after The Washington Post revealed substandard outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Bayh said Cassidy received “substandard care” at Fort Knox and tried unsuccessfully for five months to get transferred to a specialized private facility in Indianapolis that could deal with his condition.

At the time of his death, only about half of the staff positions in the Warrior Transition Unit were filled. Army officials said all key positions were filled as of mid-December.

Bayh, who spoke about the death before the Senate Armed Services Committee in November, continues to explore what Cassidy’s case says for staffing and quality of care at Warrior Transition Units nationwide.

“We’re not ready to say it’s an isolated incident,” Swain said.

McMullen’s voice broke with emotion as she said she hopes Bayh’s efforts prevent other families from suffering like hers.

“I think things have gotten better” at Fort Knox, she said. “But I think they’ve got a long way to go.”

Reporter Laura Ungar can be reached at (502) 582-7190.

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