Oklahoma Family Believes VA Should Have Provided Better Care

Wednesday, August 27th 2014, 11:11 pm
By: News 9

Military leaders call soldier suicide an epidemic, and an Oklahoma family is living through the pain.

Their loved one, a Gulf War veteran, took his life after being released from a VA hospital in Kansas.

The family says the system failed.

It wasn't until recently that Paul Hasselbring of Ponca City sought treatment for issues he battled for more than two decades.

He entered a seven-week program at the VA Medical Center in Topeka, Kansas but was discharged after three weeks.

Therapists there said he needed more individualized care.

“I could see the downward spiral," said Sasha Horinek. "I just didn't know what to do.”

Horinek knew her boyfriend and best friend of more than 25 years needed help fast. 

7/17/2014 Related Story: The Suicide Epidemic Among US Soldiers

He was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after serving in the Gulf War in 1990, but in the last three years, Sasha says things started to get worse.

“Alcohol abuse, had 10 DUI's, fighting, you name it,” Horinek said.

The family started with the Oklahoma City VA where Paul was offered outpatient weekly therapy.

“We didn't think it would be a good idea for him to go to outpatient and bring up all these feelings that he had buried, and then come home to our high stress house,” Horinek said.

So, Sasha says they opted for residential treatment at the VA Medical Center in Topeka, but documents say therapists there felt they couldn't provide the help Paul needed.

He was discharged four weeks early.

7/18/2014 Related Story: State Leaders Concerned Over Veteran Suicide Rate

“If you think someone needs more help, set something in place. Don't send them home. I didn't know how to help him,” said Horinek. “I tried to call everybody I knew, the crisis line, everybody.”

Paul shot and killed himself inside their Ponca City home two weeks after his release. Their children were sleeping downstairs.

“I jumped up and started yelling for him,” Horinek said.

In the discharge paperwork it reads, "patient expresses disappointment and frustration with the team decision."

Sasha says Paul thought he had let his family down. The war vet had been treated for substance abuse issues in the past, but never for PTSD, which Horinek says was the underlying problem.

“I never thought that I could hurt this bad ever, and it's something that of course will never leave me," said Horinek. "He died in our home, in our bedroom.”

The VA did set Paul up with an outpatient service after he was discharged from the VA in Topeka. Paul took his life on July 22, just two days before his first appointment.

“Basically, I want to raise awareness. Paul was always a lot better at reaching out a hand to someone else. Even after all the adversity he had in his life, he maintained a heart of gold,” said Horinek. “He cared about his brothers, his military brothers. I don't want this to happen to another family.”

There is confidential help available for veterans and their families.

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

Make the Connection (Shared Experiences and Support for Veterans)