Editorial Column: Returning Vets: Shh! Don’t Worry

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

May 7, 2008 – It looks as though the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to keep Ira Katz on as mental health director. Katz tried to keep the alarming rate of veteran suicides quiet with a “Shh!” e-mail sent to staff.

Sen. Patty Murray is among the group of lawmakers outraged at Katz’s conduct. In April, Murray asked for Katz to resign after hearing how he handled news that 12,000 vets attempt suicide per year while under VA treatment. According to CBS, Katz describes his e-mail as “unfortunate.” On behalf of all the vets who died at their own hands or are suffering the sort of mental anguish that continues to lead so many of them down the dark path of suicide, we find his e-mail unacceptable.

How can department head James Peake justify keeping Katz on, especially given that Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has already sounded the alarm that post-war suicides might exceed the number of combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Bloomberg.com reported that Insel’s claims “echoed a Rand Corp. study published last month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S. soldiers have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and only half of them receive treatment.” The story estimates that based on the fact that about 1.6 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, we might well be looking at an avalanche of people suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, developing substance abuse problems.

Do we really want to gamble on how many of those vets will try to kill themselves? If so, are we to remain satisfied with a VA that just tries to sweep the whole tragic situation under the rug?

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