April 23, 2008, Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) grilled Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield on recent e-mails showing that the head of VA mental health, Dr. Ira Katz, purposely underestimated statistics on veterans suicides. The e-mails – read here – surfaced as part of a class action law suit that veterans groups have filed against the VA in San Francisco.
“I am very angry and upset that we find out this week that several internal VA e-mails that were made public – not because you wanted them to, but because of a lawsuit that was ongoing – showed that the VA downplayed significantly the number of suicides and suicide attempts by veterans in the last several years,” Murray said at today’s hearing.
Murray went on to demand that Deputy Secretary Mansfield answer why she should believe his testimony today, given the VA’s history of repeatedly hiding the true needs of veterans: “How do we trust what you’re saying when every time we turn around we find out that what you’re saying publically is different from what you’re saying privately? How can we trust what you’re saying today?” Murray asked.
Secretary Mansfield responded “I share your concern and I apologize for the fact that I have to apologize again.” He then said he was not sure that he would characterize the e-mail as “keeping information from this Congress.”
Murray responded by reading Dr. Katz’s e-mails back to Secretary Mansfield which described the previously unreleased amount of suicides officials at VA facilities were seeing – 1000 per month – and began with the line “Shh!!”
After listening to Murray, Mansfield called it “unfortunate” and that the e-mail “does not bode well” or “send the right message.”
“If the attitude inside the VA is ‘shh!!’,” Murray later said. “Then we are doing a disservice to the men and women we have asked to serve us.”
“We are not your enemy, we are your support team, and unless we get the accurate information we can’t be there to do our jobs. We have to know what the facts are,” Murray said.