Editorial Column: Military Veterans: Director Must Go

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

April 23, 2008 – We’re feeling a twinge of pride upon hearing that Sen. Patty Murray — along with Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii — asked for the resignation of Veterans Affairs mental health director Ira Katz, who she says covered up the jump in veteran suicides.

According to The Associated Press, “An e-mail message from Katz disclosed this week as part of a lawsuit that went to trial in San Francisco starts with ‘Shh!’ and refers to the 12,000 veterans per year who attempt suicide while under department treatment.” Sorry, but “Shh!” is hardly an acceptable response from someone charged with the delicate and crucial task of catering to the mental health needs of our veterans.

As Murray put it, “Dr. Katz’s irresponsible actions have been a disservice to our veterans, and it is time for him to go.” Katz tried to keep a lid on the fact that 12,000 vets under VA-provided treatment try to kill themselves each year. According to the VA, of the 18 vets who try to kill themselves each day, more than 20 percent are being treated by the VA. “The number one priority of the VA should be caring for our veterans, not covering up the truth,” added Murray.

What’s clear is that the system is failing these men and women on every level. We’ve seen numerous reports this past year indicating that the number of suicides among veterans and active duty troops are spiking. This is a case where shuffling vets in and out of paper work won’t just lose them in the system. It puts them at risk of being lost in the greatest and gravest sense of the word.

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