Thursday, April 24, 2008

Angry Senator Murray Blasts V.A. For Lying About Veteran Suicide Attempts

Tacoma News-Tribune
Published: April 24th, 2008

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs lied about the number of veterans who have tried to kill themselves, Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday, citing internal e-mails that put the number at 12,000 a year while the department was publicly saying it was fewer than 800.

“The suicide rate is a red alarm bell to all of us,” the Washington state Democrat said. She added that the VA’s mental health programs are overwhelmed by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans even as the department seeks to downplay the situation.

“We are not your enemy, we are your support team, and unless we get accurate information we can’t be there to do our jobs,” Murray said.

VA deputy secretary Gordon Mansfield acknowledged the numbers discrepancy and apologized during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, telling Murray and other senators he didn’t think there was any deliberate attempt to mislead Congress or the public.

But Murray remained skeptical, saying the VA has shown a pattern of misleading Congress when it comes to the increasing number of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking help and putting a strain on Defense Department and VA facilities and programs.

Murray said she told VA Secretary James Peake to fire the man in charge of the department’s mental health programs, Dr. Ira Katz. The senator said Peake had yet to respond to her request.

“I used to teach preschool, and when you bring up a 3-year-old and tell them they have to stop lying, they understand the consequences,” Murray said. “The VA doesn’t. They need to stop hiding the fact this war is costing us in so many ways.”

The existence of the e-mails, uncovered as part of a class-action lawsuit filed against the VA in San Francisco, was first reported Monday by CBS News.

“Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities,” Katz wrote in a Feb. 13 e-mail to Ev Chasen, the department’s communication director. “Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”

Chasen responded: “I think this is something we should discuss among ourselves, before issuing a press release. Is the fact we are stopping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news? And is this more than we have ever seen before?”

CBS reported that the VA earlier had provided the network with data showing only 790 attempted suicides in all of 2007.

Murray said she was “angry and upset” with the VA. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he too was troubled.

Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, had earlier called for Katz’s resignation.

“How do we trust what you are saying when every time we turn around we find out that what you are saying publicly is different from what you are saying privately?” Murray asked Mansfield. “How can we trust what you are saying today?”

Mansfield responded that the situation was unfortunate and did not “send the right message” to Congress or the public.

“I know Doctor Katz is a dedicated public servant,” he said. “There isn’t a lot the VA should be keeping secret.”

Murray pointed to a RAND Corp. study released last week that showed 320,000 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have traumatic brain injury and 300,000 troops have post traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

Of those with PTSD or depression, Murray said, only half sought treatment and only half of those have received treatment that was “minimally” adequate.

“I think we ought to be worried,” Murray said, adding that as with Vietnam-era veterans, some of the violent symptoms might not show up for years.

“They can be walking time bombs for decades,” Murray said. “I hope everyone in the VA understands this.”

Mansfield said the VA is spending $3 billion on mental health programs this fiscal year and has 17,000 mental health workers.

“We want to make sure we take care of these individuals,” he said.

News Tribute Reporter Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008


peacenowthehippiegirl said...

wow.. that should be unbelievable.. unfortunately, given bushes penchant for making messes look "clean", it's probably all too true..

don't hate the mdeia, become the media..

truer words were never spoken..

luv ur fave hippie girl<3

ParhamA said...
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