Veteran in distress released from VA, dies in cab

Biloxi Sun HeraldNovember 10, 2010 

BILOXI, Miss. — Air Force veteran David Charles Miller, 61, died in the back seat of a taxi cab no more than 30 minutes after being released from the emergency room at the Veteran Affairs Hospital.

The taxi driver, David Winters, is still angry and upset about what happened to his fellow veteran in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 20. Miller's sister, who is so mortified by her brother's death that she did not want her name used, said she has been nauseous and unable to sleep.

Her brother had been released five days earlier from Keesler Medical Center, where the VA had referred him for heart surgery. She said his treatment at Keesler was very good. His sister said doctors put 12 stints in Miller’s heart and unblocked an artery in his leg. He spent 11 days in the hospital.

Once back in his Gautier apartment, Miller’s groin incision started bleeding. He tried to get through Monday and Tuesday to someone at the VA. He wanted to see a doctor. His sister said her brother’s pleas were answered by a recorded message from the VA, telling him he should seek treatment at the VA emergency room.

He had been there many times and was loathe to return for the long wait and perfunctory treatment he had come to expect, his sister said. The two talked daily. She was his only immediate family. He had been a sergeant and administrative specialist in the Air Force, serving overseas. His sister said he was very proud of his eight years in the service.

With the incision bleeding through his bandage, he reluctantly took a cab to the emergency room near midnight on Oct. 19.

“My brother was ready to be admitted,” said his sister, who was more than an hour away and unable to drive over so late. “He was scared, he was weak, he was ready to be admitted.”

The VA would not discuss what happened to Miller, saying hospital patients are released during the daytime, but emergency room patients are either admitted or released after treatment.

“We’re aware of the situation and it’s being investigated,” public affairs officer Roy Griggs said.

A cab was called to pick up Miller from the emergency room about 4 a.m. When Winters drove up, he found Miller sitting on the curb in front of a wheelchair. Winters and a security guard picked up Miller and put him in the back seat. “He was pretty doped up,” Winters said. “He was like a rag doll, basically.”

Winters heard choking sounds from the back seat. He stopped four times to check on Miller before they even made it off VA grounds. Winters was afraid Miller was about to throw up in the cab. The driver stopped the cab again several times on U.S. 90. “I’m not going to throw up,” Miller said. “They gave me something. I’m just sick.” That was the last time the veteran spoke.

At one point, Winters stopped again and caught the attention of a Biloxi police officer. “I don’t know what to do,” Winters said he told the officer. “I guess I’ll just get him home.” The officer agreed and Winters got back on the road. He kept looking back at Miller, who was sitting up in the back seat. When Winters pulled into the parking lot of Miller’s apartment complex, he saw the veteran was face down on the back seat. Winters got out, thinking he would wake Miller up.

But Miller’s face was ashen. He had no pulse. Winters called the Gautier Police Department. Emergency medical personnel arrived within seconds, he said, but they could not revive Miller.

Miller’s sister later learned from an autopsy that Miller had died of a massive heart attack.

“What hurts me so bad is, I’m thinking, ‘How depressed was he? Did he give up?’ He’s told me many times, ‘I give up. They don’t care. I might as well just die. They don’t care.’”

She realizes he might have died from the heart attack regardless, but said, “To think that my brother died, alone, in the back of a cab.”

The taxi driver said he picked up another veteran last week from the VA who was unable to walk. This veteran lived in an independent living complex for seniors. His walker was in his apartment. An employee of the complex loaned Winters a wheelchair. He took the veteran up to his room.

Winters does not understand why veterans unable to walk would be released to a cab driver.

He is still very angry about Miller’s death. “A part of me was in some kind of shock,” he said. “I was cursing everything. I have dealt with a lot of veterans. I was in the Army. I’ve had friends come back from Vietnam. Why was this guy released, in the condition he was in, to a cab driver?”

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