TAMPA — The Bay Pines VA Medical Center mailed a three-month supply of pain medication to a Treasure Island woman with a history of suicide threats who died after overdosing on the pills, a lawsuit filed this month says.
Linda Abrams Dresel, 56, an Army veteran who came to prominence in the 1990s as a supporter of anti-government causes, died May 9, 2009, at her home after she ingested the entire supply of pills, said the suit filed by her husband.
The former Indianapolis lawyer was better known by the name Linda Thompson, which she apparently discarded after her marriage to a Pinellas County man three years ago.
Her brother, Stephen Capps, said in an interview Tuesday that the pill bottle found after her death showed a physician's assistant at Bay Pines wrote the prescription. Capps said his sister had been committed to Bay Pines in Seminole six times under the Baker Act for suicidal threats in the month prior to her death.
Dresel had a history of depression and suicidal threats and attempts dating to 2005, the suit said. In one of her Bay Pines medical charts, the suit said, someone quoted Dresel as saying "I would OD on pills if I had any." The suit does not say when she made the statement.
The hospital, Capps said, should have known better than to send her pain pills.
He said Department of Veterans Affairs officials have offered the family no explanation or apology.
"They blew it big time," said Capps, who lives in West Virginia but is not a party to the lawsuit. "Come on. You don't give a suicidal person these pills."
Bay Pines spokesman Jason Dangel declined to comment on pending litigation.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa on May 9, the anniversary of Dresel's death.
Dresel was sexually assaulted while in the Army years ago, the suit said. The trauma led to depression and alcohol dependence, her family said. Capps said Dresel served in the 1980s and was never the same person after the assault.
Capps said he sometimes took his sister to Bay Pines after threats of suicide. He said it was very clear to any visitor that the hospital was under-staffed. He said he wondered whether that played any part in Dresel's death and her treatment by a physician's assistant.
Dresel's husband, Jan Dresel, said his wife suffered from osteoporosis, a thinning of bone tissue that can lead to bone breaks. Capps said his sister was receiving medication for back pain.
In the past, the suit said, the VA would dispense pain medication to Dresel only on a daily basis to avoid an overdose. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, does not say why the VA would send a three-month supply of the pills.
The suit does not identify the pain medication, and the husband's attorney declined to talk about details of the case. But attorney Krista M. Bartholomew of Winter Park said Dresel's death did not lead to any criminal investigation.
According to media reports, Dresel formerly aligned herself with far-right, anti-government causes. She founded a group in the early 1990s called the American Justice Federation, described by supporters as being pro-gun and pro-Constitution.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said Dresel called for militiamen to make an armed march on Washington, D.C., to "take U.S. senators and congressmen into custody, hold them for trial, and, if necessary, execute them."
She once sued the National Enquirer for describing her as the "Queen of Hate."
But for all of her notoriety, Jan Dresel said his wife was a woman who was loved by family despite her mental health problems.
"All this was very shocking, very upsetting," he said.
Her brother said the public needs to know about his sister's death so that the VA can avoiding repeating the error.
"It really needs to be out there," Capps said. "The men and women coming home from war now with five or six deployments are going to have a lot more problems than my sister."
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.