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Champion family doctors testify in suicide case filed against them

Published: Thu, January 16, 2014 @ 12:08 a.m.

By Ed Runyan



Dr. Frank G. Veres and his son, Dr. Zachary F. Veres, took the witness stand Wednesday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court to discuss the treatment they gave Michael Ecker of Champion, who served in the military in Iraq and committed suicide in August 2009 while under the care of the physicians.

The testimony was heard during the third day of a trial arising from a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Ecker’s father, Matthew Ecker of Champion, who seeks monetary damages from the doctors, saying they failed to administer adequate care to his 25-year-old son.

Testimony in the trial before Judge Ronald Rice concluded Wednesday afternoon. Closing arguments and deliberations are expected this afternoon.

The father-and-son doctors, whose offices are on Mahoning Avenue in Champion, handled monthly office visits for Michael Ecker, each handling some of them from January 2009 until Aug. 17, 2009 — 11 days before Michael Ecker died.

Frank Veres, the elder physician, testified that he had no concerns about Michael Ecker’s mental health during the first visit in January, despite diagnosing Ecker as having depression and renewing a prescription for a depression-fighting drug.

In March, however, Ecker expressed dissatisfaction with the prescription he was on, so Veres added a second one, the doctor testified.

Veres had asked Michael Ecker to bring him the records from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which had treated him earlier for back, knee and foot pain and depression, but Ecker had not provided them, Veres said.

“It’s always nice to have them, but there comes a time when you have to move on,” Veres said of the records. “We felt he was still stable.”

Ecker did not appear to be suicidal during routine conversations during visits in March and June.

When asked by his attorney, Thomas Prislipsky, if he thinks he met the “standard of care” expected of family doctors such as him with regard to Michael Ecker’s mental health, Dr. Frank Veres said yes, because “I didn’t see anything suicidal.”

In cross-examination by Matthew Ecker’s attorney, Brian Kopp, the doctor discussed the expansion of the practice in 2009 to include cosmetic procedures such as Botox and laser peels and the significant amount of training he underwent to become certified in that area.

In addition to his family practice, urgent care and a specialization in sports medicine, he also served as medical director for several hospitals, he said.

Dr. Zachary Veres, under cross-examination by Kopp, said he gave a “general evaluation” to Michael Ecker during appointments in July and August but made no notations in the file regarding Ecker’s mental health because he found nothing unusual.

He does refer patients to a psychiatrist if they show signs of paranoia or are “unable to deal with life,” Zach Veres said, but that was not the case with Michael Ecker, he said.

Among the witnesses Tuesday were Dr. Michael S. Klinkman of Ann Arbor, Mich., hired by attorneys for Matthew Ecker, who said he thinks the doctors Veres failed to provide adequate care.

Kopp asked Dr. Klinkman to comment on the notes the doctors wrote into Michael Ecker’s chart from January to August 2009 regarding the medications they prescribed and the diagnoses they had made.

Dr. Klinkman noted a lack of information regarding the reasons the physicians had prescribed several medications for mental-health issues, such as comments from the patient regarding problems he was having.

The doctors failed to take necessary steps to acquire VA records, Dr. Klinkman said.

If a patient fails to bring important records from a previous physician to his new physician, the new physician should tell the patient he has one month to find a new physician, Dr. Klinkman said.

“That was disappointing to me that neither of the doctors Veres thought they needed that information,” Dr. Klinkman said of the VA records.

Dr. Klinkman agreed that family physicians such as Zachary and Frank Veres “frequently treat patients with major depression” like Michael Ecker and that the percentage of family physicians handling mental-health issues is increasing.

But Dr. Klinkman said he thinks the “complex mood disorder” Michael Eckman had “would suggest having him evaluated by a psychiatrist.”


1michael1757(484 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

My only question is,why wasn't this vet going to the VA in Trumbull county,or whatever county any vet is from.

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2Attis(1117 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

The doctors are not responsible for this young man's death. The warmongers who sent him as canon fodder to Iraq are. Sue them, America.

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3kensgirl(1043 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

I've seen how psychiatrists treat their patients. It's one, two three and your outta there. And don't forget to pay your bill on the way out. I worked for years in the field and never met a psychiatrist who truly cared about their patients. That's why I got out. If people only knew the truth how patients are overmedicated and walk around like zombies because the doctor knows zilch about the meds. Usually they have to call the pharmacy to ask specific questions about the medication then they don't follow up on the side effects etc. It's a huge money makier not only for the doctor but for drug companies everywhere. Shameful.

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4concerned(302 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

What is a depression fighting drug? And if the first drug isnt working add a 2nd? Good God...

THESE DRUGS ARE LINKED TO SUICIDE. We are losing more vets to sucide than these stupid wars.


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5southsidedave(5185 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

How can these doctors be held liable for suicide...no one knows what is in another person's mind...and Ecker did not exhibit signs of wanting to kill himself. Lawsuit happy Americans.

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6concerned(302 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

They prescribed dangerous medications that flat out say they can cause sucide and most likely haphazardly monitored their patient.

These poor military people are treated like guinea pigs with all he experimental drugs and vaccines they are forced to take. Then after they have given their service and return "intact" or not are treated like crap by society.....Here take these pills (which is further experimentation) and go away.

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7walter_sobchak(2626 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Dr. Veres asked Ecker to bring his VA records to him but he never did. At the trial, the expert witness for the plaintiff, Dr. Klinkman, testified that it was his belief that if the patient fails to bring the records within one month, he should be told to find a new physician. In other words, kick him out on the street. Instead, the doctors tried to treat him and they get sued for wrongful death. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Agreed; lawsuit happy Americans. I don't know why anyone would want to become a physician in this day.

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8redeye1(5530 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

@Boardman Jeff & Gilligan If you two wish to put GW and Cheney on trial. Let's take it one step further and try the members of congress who also voted to go to war Hillary Clinton, Obammy, and all members of BOTH parties involved but mentioned by me After all these people are no better then GW and Chaney are they?

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9lumper(300 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

you don't get a plumber to fix your electricity. these boys were in over their heads treating psych patients as general practitioners. this is what happens when you get greedy.

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10ns9688(1 comment)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

I know these doctors and all of this is complete bull crap. They are being made to these greedy doctors that have no care for their patients in reality they are just normal people doing what every other doctor would do. if they don't see signs he's suicidal its not their fault. People don't always make it obvious they are suicidal. They tried to get the records from the VA and when they didn't receive them they didn't kick him out they tried to help him out. If his family thought he was depressed and suicidal why wouldn't his family or himself go see a psychiatric doctor and not a family doctor. And the accusation against them for being greed at preposterous! My boyfriend was recommended to them by his coach a couple years ago and did not charge him for his whirlpool and air cast. Now that is just one person granite but how many doctors help patients out like that. This whole case disgust me. These people spend almost every day of their lives trying to help us and this is how they get repaid.

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11dontbeafool(1944 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

It is sad that these young men come back broken, and for what? Leaders are too quick to go to war. When someone wants to kill themselves, they will succeed 100% of the time if that is what they truly want. Doctors can't save every patient and shouldn't be to blame in this case. The question could be raised that the parents or friends didn't see the signs either. It is a tragedy that soldiers are pretty much kicked to the curb by the same people who sent them to war. Disgraceful!

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