April 24, 2008 – San Francisco, CA — The number of Iraq war veterans contacting a suicide hotline soared last month, according to information revealed Thursday during a federal trial in San Francisco.
Dr. Michael Kussman, Undersecretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, was called to the stand by plaintiffs who are suing the government for failing to implement its own Mental health Strategic plan.
Kussman testified that the suicide hotline recieved 5,000 calls from veterans last month. That makes March the busiest month for the hotline since it was established in July of 2007.
“It’s a failure to implement the programs to deal with these veterans. This is an epidemic of suicides with veterans coming back from the war, and there’s a lot of trouble with Vietnam vets,” said attorney Gordon Erspamer, who represents the plaintiffs.
War veterans are returning with severe brain injuries and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Under intense questioning, Dr. Kussman agreed that access to mental health care is among the top complaints, but that the V.A. is ideally poised to care for veterans as they transition out of the military.
Kussman admitted 16% of V.A. facilities have no referral system for vets at risk of suicide.