Iraq veteran’s death highlights the latest VA scandal in Miami
Army Specialist Nicholas Cutter spent his most recent deployment, a 15 month tour of duty in Samarra, Iraq, fighting wave after wave of insurgents, dodging countless bullets, and watching too many of his brothers in arms die. When Cutter made it home safely, his family considered it a blessing, but they would quickly find out that Cutter returned home far from “safe.” He was a different man, one that desperately needed help. When they turned to the VA to get that help, it may have been the decision that ended Cutter’s life.
Thanks to a scathing two part expose in the Miami New Times, we can now all know a detailed version of what Cutter not only went through during his tour in Iraq, but also the saga he endured, right up to his death, upon his return from combat. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the story Miami New Times unveiled via Cutter was not the cover-up of information surrounding his death (something readers into the recent VA scandals are no doubt desensitized to at this point), but the alleged knowledge of drug dealing within the VA and the knowing release of soldier in rehab into city streets known for easy access to the drugs they were trying to clean themselves of.
The Miami New Times tells an all too familiar story of Cutter, suffering from PTSD thanks to his time in Iraq, turning to drugs to self-medicate. At first, it was drinking and marijuana to try to help avoid the nightmares. Once the nightmares became too much to avoid, the drugs became amphetamines and cocaine to avoid sleeping altogether.
In a journal obtained for the story by New Times, Cutter wrote “I started drinking very heavy when I came back. I also started smoking weed at night to be able to go to sleep. But I found out that it was a temporary solution to the problem. So I though since I’m having nightmares when I sleep, why sleep? Just stay up. So I started using coke.”
As his addiction grew, so did his criminal habits. Cutter began stealing to support his drug use, and after being arrested twice (despite having the charges dropped both times) it was finally time to seek treatment. First, it was at the West Palm Beach VA hospital, where he was heavily medicated, but according to reports, was improving overall. That is, until an attempt on his life, when his sister walked in on him trying to cut his own throat. Cutter was Baker Acted and sent to a psychiatric ward. Eventually, a spot in the Miami VA hospital’s 24/7 rehab program for veterans opened up, something Cutter and his family had hoped would be the thing that finally turned his life around.
But the opposite happened. Cutter’s time at the Miami VA hospital saw him spiral even deeper into his drug addictions, thanks to easy access to drugs both within and just outside of the VA (in stairwells and parking lots according to the New Times). In fact, on the last day of Cutter’s life, when he got a pass to leave the hospital despite multiple failed drug tests, he told the receptionist that he was leaving because “I’m gonna go get high.”
Cutter was found dead of “acute cocaine and heroin toxicity,” although Cutter’s family was told he choked on a bologna sandwich. It wasn’t until many months later that an internal investigation turned up the truth, along with a mile-long list of broken rules, such as broken video cameras, no surprise drug tests, no searching of patients for drugs, and employees who were often not watching over patients whatsoever.
For now, Cutter’s story is but an addition to an ever-growing lists of atrocities happening to our veterans across the U.S. at VA hospitals, but as these stories continue to mount, it can’t be long before change finally occurs.
By Brett Gillin