Skip to comments.17 vets a month commit suicide under VA care
Posted on 04/24/2008 4:18:51 PM PDT by infantrywhooah
After learning that more than 17 veterans per month commit suicide while under the care of the Veterans Affairs Department, senators accused VA of withholding information about suicide rates and demanded the removal of its mental health chief.
The culture of the VA has to change, said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., after a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
To restore credibility, she said VA must take responsibility and dismiss Dr. Ira Katz, deputy chief patient care services officer for mental health.
He clearly knew information and was holding it from us here in Congress, Murray said.
Deputy VA Secretary Gordon Mansfield said he shared Murrays concerns, but stopped short of taking responsibility for them.
I apologize for the implications here, he said, adding that he does not believe VA is engaged in a concerted campaign to withhold information.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the committee, backed the call for Katzs resignation.
The accusations began flying Monday after a lawsuit brought to light a series of e-mails about high suicide numbers from Katz.
Murray quoted Katz writing in one e-mail:
Shh! Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans in our medical facilities.
Murray noted that Katzs wondered in his e-mail if VA should try to address the numbers in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it.
Katz had just appeared before Congress April 3 and did not mention any problem like that.
Akaka said he was concerned about a potential suicide epidemic within the Defense Department and VA.
We know information about suicides is being suppressed, he said.
David Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said the military numbers have been fairly consistent. Although the number of suicides in the Army has gone up over the past year, the good news is that the rate is still below the national average.
However, several critics have called into question the value of comparing a generally young military force that has been screened for mental health as well as general health to the general population.
Mansfield said the number of veterans who commit suicide under VA care rose from 1,403 in 2001 to 1,784 in 2005.
He did not give recent figures. Although he said he is not the expert on numbers ... I dont know that I would call it an epidemic.
He also said the numbers would be expected to rise slightly in wartime.
But some senators said they see a need for a better response.
I dont think theres any attempt to intentionally not share information, said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. But he noted the importance of getting veterans into treatment programs especially after a Rand report released last week estimated that 300,000 veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
Murray, who clenched her jaw and seemed to shake with anger during the discussion, said she is tired of spending every day for five-and-a-half years trying to drag information out of VA.
She said a study showed 6,250 veterans killed themselves in 2005 and in his e-mails, Katz not only backed up those numbers, but said they were much higher.
Im very upset, Murray said. In VA, everyone knew it was higher and there are e-mails showing us that. How do we trust what youre saying ... if what youre saying publicly is different from what youve said privately? How do we trust what youre saying today?
The officials were on the Hill to testify about simplifying the transfer of medical files between VA and the Defense Department.
Chu said they hoped to have most documents viewable though not available in an interactive way by September.
But the senators focused much of their time on the suicide issue in light of the newly discovered e-mails.
The whole culture is repressing information, Murray told the witnesses. We are not your enemy. We are your support system.
She said Congress cant help VA with funding or legislation if it doesnt get good information.
Mansfield said he would do all he can to get correct information to the senators.
In the end, [lying] bites you every time, said Rep. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
That makes no sense. They will go to the head of the line.
Thank you for the first intelligent post on this thread.
In the last 2 years the VA has begun serious, intense initiatives to deal with suicidal ideation, attempts and with those factors that may indicate a higher possibility of suicide. There are now VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators in every part of the country whose only job is to train VA employees (professional and non professionals, as well as mental health and primary care providers in the community) to identify those veterans who may be more at risk. These Suicide Prevention Coordinators also work with a National Suicide Htoline for Veterans taking referrals ( as well as referrals from VA mental health and primary care professionals ) to track veterans at risk, to call them to assist their getting help and to make sure that if there are any factors ( ie missed appointments) that crop up, interventions can be followed up.
There is no way to prevent someone from committing suicide if they are determined to do that. We do not “lock people up” in psychiatric hospitals forever just because they have had depression or suicidal thoughts.
The VA is very committed to doing everyhting they can to help veterans. As for those Freeprs who know nothing about mental health, medical care or the VA and say “ lets let vets get private “better” care....HA>HA>HA!!! “ The VA across the board offers WAY better medical and psychiatric care...try to get a 45 minute follow up visit with a private psychiatrist. Or how about a 90 DAY substance RESIDENTIAL abuse program? In the private sector you MAY get 28 days with the very very best insurance.
Some of these comments remind me of the Liberal who just wrote a VA bashing book where she said, “Oh, we know what’s wrong, its soooo simple, ANYONE could solve the problem in 4 hours.!”
You raise some good points.
I call baloney on some of the dreadful statistics.
The VA has the right person, in the right spot, right now!
“...17 veterans per month commit suicide while under the care of the Veterans Affairs Department...”