VA facility, where vet was found with maggots in wound, accused of allowing vet to choke to death

This family photo shows Leonard Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran who died recently at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Talihina. Courtesy

Authorities, lawmakers and the family of an Oklahoma Vietnam veteran who choked to death on a plastic bag are searching for answers in a tragic, fatal incident that has lead to an investigation of the incident.

Seventy-year-old  Leonard Smith died at the center on the last day of January after choking on a plastic bag that was found lodged in his throat An investigation by the Oklahoma Health Department’s Protective Health Services would later report that the Talihina Veterans Center not only failed to prevent neglect, but failed to investigate a report of Smith passing an examination glove in a bowel movement.

“Leonard’s aunt, my great-aunt, is the one that called me this morning and was like, ‘Christine, you’re not going to believe this,’ and I was like, oh my gosh,” said Christine Cornwell, Smith’s niece, whom he had entrusted with his power of attorney after his dementia had begun to set in over half a decade ago.

Smith was part of the facility’s locked-down special-needs unit, which reportedly keeps an extra careful eye on patients affected with a myriad of conditions, including those with Dementia.

It is unknown how -or when- the Navy veteran consumed the plastic- or if he did so voluntarily.

According to Cornwell, Smith had a habit of chewing on things, which led to oral administration of education.

“She was telling me about how they had stopped giving him IV antibiotics because he had chewed the tube — this is the first I’ve been told about it,” Cornwell said. “She said she gave him his medication. He seemed to have difficulty swallowing so she suctioned him and got a piece of plastic out of his throat. She said it was approximately 6 inches long and tied in knots. She said she got that out of his throat, and a few minutes later he took a large gasp of air and he passed away. She said they worked on him (in an attempt to resuscitate him) for approximately 30 minutes.”

In response to the death of Smith, the center has been given a corrective plan that includes more detailed trash and hazard removal, discontinuing of styrofoam cups and safer storage of trash bags.

According to Tulsa World, this isn’t the first case of the Talihina facility being less than attentive:  In December of last year, four Talihina staff members resigned following the October death of 73-year-old Owen R. Peterson, who was found with maggots in his wounds.

The facility -which is nearly a century old- is reportedly chronically understaffed and struggles to keep up with the up to 175 veterans who live there.

It is unknown at this time if criminal or civil charges will ensue pending investigation.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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