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Apr-21-2008 20:40printcomments

VA Inadvertently Confirms that a Thousand Vets a Month are Attempting Suicide

An email intercepted by CBS News shows that the VA's head of Mental Health has knowingly lied to the public, repeatedly.

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(SALEM, Ore.) - The number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans attempting to commit suicide today in the United States is about 1,000 a month, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs' head of Mental Health, Dr. Ira Katz.

The VA's Dr. Ira R. Katz, Ph.D.

The news is numbing, and the VA did not mean to let it out. It seems the spirit of CBS News is alive and well, as the network's news department has cracked wide open the VA's fictitious position; that less than 800 vets were taking their own lives every year.

They spoke with Veterans Rights Attorney Gordon Erspamer who said, "The system is in crisis and unfortunately the VA is in denial."

The CBS article compares the revelation in the Katz email of 12,000 suicide attempts a year, to the attitude he has shown in the past while discussing it. Katz has remained very insistent that the numbers of combat veterans committing suicide is not alarming.

CBS has been dealing closely with the story for some time, and they cite the fact that Katz has repeatedly insisted "while the risk of suicide among veterans is serious, it's not outside the norm."

He said to CBS, "There is no epidemic in suicide in VA." But the email clearly states otherwise. It was sent to Katz's top media adviser two months ago.

Katz wrote: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our metical facilities." (misspelling retained)

Interestingly, the Katz email was written right after Veterans Affairs provided CBS News information showing there were a total of 790 attempted suicides in the year 2007. Of course the figure is not even comparable to the number Katz sent to his media adviser.

Oregon Guard combat soldier
in Afghanistan. Photo: Tim King

There seems to longer be a question over how many veterans are in this most negative category, and previous attempts to force the VA to raise its level of psychiatric care have gone unheeded until now under the guise that the average's combat vet's suicidal tendencies were much lower, and thus less problematic to the VA as an agency.

Dr. Phil Leveque, an Oregon WWII combat veteran and PTSD sufferer who later treated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients as a doctor, commented on this after an earlier statement from the VA released last November. Even then many believed the federal agency's spokespeople were being less than honest, still very few anticipated that they would confirm the number of 1,000 a month.

Leveque said, "The obscene number of suicides is a direct measure and result of the VA's medical malpractice and fraud. All veterans are assured that if they are wounded that the VA will take care of them. It should be obvious to anyone with two neurones that this is not happening, and has never happened."

Gordon P. Erspamer

Erspamer told today that the way the information was communicated in the first place, sets the stage for the approach the agency has taken.

"The most unfortunate aspect of the e-mails is that they reflect not a sincere effort to deal with a growing problem, but rather, a policy of denial and hiding the truth about suicides."

Paul Sullivan with Veterans for Common Sense told CBS News, "This 12,000 attempted suicides per year shows clearly, without a doubt, that there is an epidemic of suicide among veterans."

CBS alleges that Katz went out of his way to conceal these numbers bu first titling his e-mail: "Not for the CBS News Interview Request."

They say he began with "Shh!" - and ended with "Is this something we should (carefully) address … before someone stumbles on it?"

For his part, Katz wrote to CBS in an email late Monday, "that the reason the numbers were not released was due to questions about the consistency and reliability of the findings - and that there was no public cover-up involved."

This unintended release of information from the VA will certainly have an impact for years to come as the American public wrestles with its feelings about a government willing to lie straight faced and sell the truth about our soldiers down the road.

Perhaps the worst part is that many of us in the media were already calling foul, people like our own Dr. Phil Leveque who can smell a skunk from a mile away.

Erspamer suggests that while the numbers that sounds large now, they are just a fraction of what they will be. "The documents show that suicide amongst veterans is indeed an epidemic, and one that will only grow worse as more than 900,000 more troops return and become veterans."


Special thanks to the CBS News for information contained in the article titled VA Hid Suicide Risk, Internal E-Mails Show published April 21st 2008.

Three writers are military veterans who have spent time in a war theater. We care deeply about veterans, PTSD, and a number of related problems and issues facing the people who chose to serve this country. To see our wealth of PTSD related articles, please visit this link: Ptsd articles

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Ember Lennep April 26, 2008 1:56 pm (Pacific time)

If the head of V.A.'s mental health can't even spell "medical" why are we surprised that our soldiers are getting inferior mental support? We continue to give those who defend our country and its interest inferior pay, inferior housing, inferior medical and psychiatric treatment and expect no repercussions. No one in Congress or the Senate is worthy to carry any vet's boots, but they live wealthy while our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line. THAT is insanity!!

Cliff Kaylor April 23, 2008 3:01 pm (Pacific time)

This is simply another example of how poorly this Nation cares for its warriors. The Chickenhawks send others off to war and then neglect them.

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