April 25, 2008 -Rep Harry Mitchell (D-5) has given Deparment of Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake an option: Produce documents related to suicides among veterans by May 9, or he will pursue “other options.”
In a letter sent to Peake’s office yesterday, Mitchell expressed that he is “frustrated and disappointed” that the VA has not complied with his request, submitted four months ago, to ascertain whether or not the department is adequately tracking the rate of suicides and attempted suicides in the veteran community and what outreach techniques are being employed to prevent more.
Here is the full text of the letter:
The Honorable James Peake
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am both frustrated and disappointed to once again ask for the Department’s compliance with the document request I submitted following the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee’s December 12, 2007 hearing entitled “Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges Within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”
In the four months since making this request, I have yet to receive a single document.
Subsequent inquires have been met with excuses, complaints, and most recently a suggestion that I, “go file a Freedom of Information Act request.”
I have tried to be reasonable. I have tried to work with your staff to establish the location of responsive documents, and a fair timetable for delivery.
My patience, however, is at an end.
As a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I have a responsibility to ensure that the Department has the resources and legal authority it needs to track veterans who commit suicide, treat veterans at risk for suicide, and conduct outreach to veterans at risk for suicide.
Toward that end, I have asked to review documents relating to requests for additional resources within the Department that were denied, unanswered, or responded to with less than the amount of additional resources requested.
If the requested documents are not produced by May 9, 2008, I will have no choice but to pursue other actions available to me as a Member of Congress and as Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Enclosed, for your convenience, is a copy of my original request, as well as subsequent correspondence.
Thank you for your assistance.
Harry E. Mitchell
Member of Congress
Mitchell appeared on KPHO in December to decry the fact that it was a CBS investigation, not the VA itself, that unearthed evidence of a far higher veterans suicide rate than had previously been reported.
A lawsuit began on Monday in a San Francisco court alleging that the VA has dropped the ball when it comes to the mental health of returning servicemembers, and the data CBS uncovered is a large part of the plaintiffs’ argument.
As Mitchell stated in the letter, if he doesn’t get the response he’s after he could pursue other options available to his oversight subcommittee, including subpoenaing the requested documents or bringing officials from the VA Dept. before the committee.