April 25, 2008 – Once again, the Department of Veterans Affairs is out of sync with the needs of returning soldiers. The disconnect is especially daunting for those who have attempted suicide because of post-traumatic stress syndrome or other mental-health issues.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington calls for the resignation of Dr. Ira Katz, who is in charge of mental-health issues for the Veterans Health Administration. She is right to do so.Internal e-mails reveal a combination of bad faith and incompetence in calculating how widespread the suicide problem is among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and even from Vietnam.
It does not take extraordinary logic to realize the VA should have a better grasp of the magnitude of the suicide problem, rather than trading in specious numbers that are ridiculous, lowball estimates. How can an agency tackle a problem it can’t honestly describe?
Murray does not mince words. She accuses the VA of lying about the number of veterans who have attempted suicide.
She makes an important point. If you can’t accurately count the number and be honest about the size of the problem, you can’t provide services for thousands of veterans grappling with depression and an ultimate decision.
Murray says internal VA e-mails suggest that 12,000 soldiers a year attempt suicide, while the VA publicly admitted to a number closer to 800 a year.
“The suicide rate is a red alarm bell to all of us,” Murray says. The VA’s mental-health programs are overwhelmed by war veterans with mental issues. She is furious the VA would downplay something so important. “They (the VA) need to stop hiding the fact this war is costing us in so many ways.”
Internal e-mails obtained in a lawsuit against the VA in San Francisco show department employees trying to manage publicity surrounding the larger estimate rather than getting real about steps to deal with this alarming problem.
The VA is charged with providing a range of services for our veterans. Changing the story, fudging numbers, shows an agency failing brave citizens who fought for their country, put their lives on the line and deserve honest and immediate mental-health care.