A Bureau County woman is speaking out in the wake of the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, saying the VA’s negligence helped cause her brother’s death.
“The VA system, it’s a disgrace,” Rainy Hopper of Tiskilwa, Illinois, said.
Nick Cutter, a native of Princeton, Illinois, survived the war, but 14 months on the front lines in Iraq haunted him for good. The 27-year-old was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury after three different IED attacks on his Humvee. He was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He came home. He didn’t even have a soul. He was devastated, it was like the war sucked the life out of him,” Hopper said.
Drinking heavily and doing cocaine became Cutter’s escape. He wanted help, and attended counseling sessions at a VA center in Florida. He waited for nearly a year to get into a VA rehab hospital in Miami.
Nick Cutter died of a cocaine overdose during his stay in the clinic.
His sister says no one was watching him, and that he was not only allowed weekend passes but daily passes as well.
“No one was checking on him. No one was taking his vitals, no bed checks, no night charting. No one was watching. We were excited because this facility had security cameras so they could watch him. The only problem is, the security cameras were broken,” Hopper said.
Hopper says her family was also told that Cutter had died from aspiration after eating a sandwich. They found out later, through an Inspector General’s report looking into the matter, that Cutter had died of a cocaine overdose.
The IG report was also highly critical of the VA rehab center, finding broken security cameras, staff members who didn’t check on patients and lax drug screening.
“He deserved so much better. He had a hard time at the VA hospital because his psychiatrist would change every month. The turnover rate was ridiculous. Every month, he’d have to go in again. Here’s my story, again. Why would he go risk his life if the country can’t even respect him for it?” Hopper said.
Nick Cutter’s family continues to push for answers and change.
His final resting place in Illinois remained unmarked, as the VA had yet to approve a headstone for his grave.