American Journal of Law & Medicine

Tort law: Third Circuit holds federal agency liable for deaths mentally-ill patient caused after negligent discharge from treatment program - De Jesus v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tort Law: Third Circuit Holds Federal Agency Liable for Deaths Mentally-Ill Patient Caused After Negligent Discharge from Treatment Program--De Jesus v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs (1)--The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently held the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") (2) when a mentally-ill patient, Alejandro De Jesus, shot himself and four children eighteen hours after the VA released him from a transitional residence program that provides mental and physical health care to homeless veterans.

The FTCA overcomes sovereign immunity and makes the federal government liable for tort claims "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." (3) A federal agency's duty under the FTCA stems from state law, which the Third Circuit found the VA violated by discharging and failing to commit De Jesus.

De Jesus, an unemployed, homeless Vietnam veteran with substance abuse problems and a history of domestic violence, entered a VA inpatient program in 1997. (4) A VA clinical psychologist diagnosed De Jesus with intermittent explosive disorder, a condition characterized by repeated violent outbursts. (5) Later, a VA psychiatrist confirmed the diagnosis and prescribed medication to control his condition. (6) A second VA psychiatrist, unaware of the first diagnosis, diagnosed De Jesus with only mild depression. (7) In response, the VA assigned De Jesus a treatment team for psychotherapy and substance abuse counseling. (8) The team's primary therapist had a Registered Nursing degree, but no nursing license because she had failed the licensing exam. …

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