In 2019, Emma Dash faced a challenging situation during a mental health crisis and made the difficult choice to seek treatment for her husband at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center located in West Palm Beach, Florida. Considering her own employment at the facility and the belief that it would provide a safe haven, she trusted that her husband, former Army Sgt. Brieux Dash would receive the care he desperately needed. Unfortunately, tragedy struck, and three days later, 33-year-old Brieux Dash, a devoted father of three, took his own life within the confines of the VA center.
Following an investigation conducted by Veterans Affairs, several deficiencies were discovered within the facility. These included inconsistent safety checks and malfunctioning surveillance cameras, which failed to adequately monitor at-risk patients. In response to these findings, Dash’s family pursued legal action against the VA, filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Their claim alleged that the center could have prevented Brieux Dash’s suicide.
In a significant and groundbreaking development, the legal representatives of the family have recently disclosed a historic settlement of $5.75 million with the United States government. They emphasize that this settlement represents the largest of its kind for a suicide case. Prior to the release of the VA’s investigation results, Emma Dash expressed her profound shock and disappointment upon learning about the facility’s shortcomings.
Brieux Dash, hailing from Rochester, New York, enlisted in the Army in January 2006. That same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Emma. According to court records, Dash completed two deployments to Iraq with the aim of securing military benefits for his family. Dash’s initial deployment occurred from March 2007 to June 2008 and was followed by a second deployment from November 2009 to September 2011.
The toll of these deployments weighed heavily on both Brieux Dash and his family. Emma Dash recognizes the difficulties they confronted, expressing, “Regardless of the obstacles we encountered, we always found a way to overcome them.” However, after leaving the Army, Brieux Dash struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Based on these diagnoses, he received a 30 percent VA disability rating in 2016, which was later raised to 50 percent in 2018 following further evaluations of his mental health conditions.
Over the years, Brieux and Emma Dash made efforts to shield their children from his mental health episodes, including a previous suicide attempt. However, in 2019, his behavior deviated from his usual self. Emma Dash describes him as acting out of character, including instances of yelling at their children on the morning he was admitted to the VA medical center.
The lawsuit highlights that Brieux Dash faced financial struggles after losing his job. In early March 2019, he received a notice from the VA, informing him of an overpayment of nearly $20,000 in separation pay. As a consequence, his monthly disability compensation would be withheld until the amount was repaid. The lawsuit argues that this notice triggered a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, emotional distress, and vulnerability.
On March 11, 2019, Brieux Dash was involuntarily committed to the VA medical center in West Palm Beach following a suicide attempt at his home. Unfortunately, his discharge was delayed, leading to further destabilization of his physical and mental well-being, as documented in court records. He ultimately retreated to a secluded room behind a closed door, where, as per VA policy, a monitoring camera should have been operational. Tragically, Brieux Dash took his own life by hanging on March 14, according to the lawsuit.
Shockingly, staff members failed to locate him for over two hours, disregarding the mandatory requirement for mental health unit workers to check on patients every 15 minutes, as asserted in the lawsuit.
The VA’s subsequent investigation revealed a disturbing fact: the center’s cameras, which were meant to be functioning in accordance with policy, had not been operational for at least three years. The lawsuit argues that had these cameras been repaired and actively monitored, the VA staff could have intervened and prevented Brieux Dash’s untimely death.
Peter Bertling, an attorney representing the Dash family, asserts that this tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the VA to prioritize its responsibilities. He hopes that the settlement and the legal action taken by the family will bring about meaningful changes within VA facilities, sparing other families the profound grief and loss they have experienced.
With resilience and determination, Emma Dash faces the difficult task of moving forward for the sake of her children. She expresses her hope that her family’s case will drive positive transformations within VA facilities, ensuring that others do not suffer a similar fate.
As the settlement process drew to a close, Emma Dash made the poignant decision to sell the family home in Palm Springs, Florida. The house, once a place of cherished memories with her husband, had become a painful reminder of their final moments together. Emma Dash recalls how Brieux Dash would gather his tired or irritable family members, encouraging them to dance in the living room to the tunes of his favorite R&B artists, especially New Edition. However, in recent years, the house had transformed into a source of torment, a constant reminder of the family’s last shared moments before his passing.
Reflecting on her circumstances, Emma Dash bravely acknowledges, “I have no choice. I have the kids, and I have to keep going.”