May 7, 2008 – The director of mental health at the VA yesterday told the House Veterans Affairs Committee he made a poor choice when he wrote ‘Shh!’ in an email to colleagues discussing veterans’ suicide attempts. The line “was an error and I apologize for that,” Ira Katz told the committee, the Associated Press reports.
The email said 12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while under department treatment. “Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?” the email asked.
Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake also apologized to the committee yesterday for the email, which came to light in a trial in San Francisco over the quality of mental health care delivered to veterans.
Peake said the figures in the email were not released because of concerns about accuracy, the AP reports. Of nearly 500,000 veterans who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and then left the military between 2002 and 2005, 144 have committed suicide, Peake said. He added that the rate is slightly higher than what would be expected in the general population, but the difference isn’t statistically significant.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) blasted Katz and the VA. “This is not a bureaucratic situation with numbers. This is life or death,” Filner said, according to a report in Stars and Stripes. “I think there is clear evidence of a cover-up, and I think there is criminal negligence here.”
An investigation by CBS News last year revealed a “suicide epidemic” among veterans. Those findings, which helped set the stage for the latest hearings, were disputed by the VA at the time. But “e-mails made public last month show [Katz] and other researchers had more confidence in those figures than first revealed, and uncovered additional data supporting CBS’ claims over the following weeks, “Stars and Stripes writes. CBS explains its methodology here.