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VA settles in Navy vet's drug overdose death

Feb. 20, 2013 - 04:14PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 20, 2013 - 04:14PM  |  
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The Veterans Affairs Department has agreed to pay a former Navy corpsman $100,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging the department failed to properly monitor and prescribe medications to her sister, a 37-year-old veteran who overdosed on a prescription drug in November 2010.

Darla Grese filed a $5 million lawsuit against VA last year after learning that Kelli Marie Grese received multiple refills — at least 900 pills' worth — within a two-month period of a drug she had used to attempt suicide three times in the past eight months.

Darla Grese said she filed the lawsuit against the Hampton VA Medical Center, Va., to call attention to what she said is medication mismanagement and negligence at VA.

"Anything I can do to call attention to this issue, I will," Grese said.

Kelli Grese's battle with mental illness began in 1996, when she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her voluntary separation from the Navy in 1997 appeared to exacerbate her mental heath condition and she eventually sought treatment at VA for symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia.

She received a prescription for clonazepam, meant for short-term treatment of anxiety, and Adderall, a stimulant normally prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

VA records show the Adderall triggered psychosis, a rare but known side effect.

She then was prescribed Seroquel, an antipsychotic, to combat the psychosis. But she also suffered from a substance abuse disorder and became adept at bouncing among VA doctors and civilian physicians to acquire medications.

Her first overdose with Seroquel was in March 2010.

The lawsuit noted that Darla Grese tried several times to intervene with Kelli's doctors.

"I don't understand how a physician can write a prescription for 450 pills and two months later write another prescription for 450," she said. "Something's broken. The system is broken."

As part of the settlement, VA admits no wrongdoing or responsibility in the case.

Still, Darla Grese said that the settlement "makes a huge statement."

"I think the money they poured into defending the case and agreeing to the settlement speaks volumes," she said.

Grese said she plans to continue advocating for veterans care by volunteering with charities Kelli supported, including Veterans' Hope.

"I want to honor her memory and keep helping veterans," she said.

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