“Shh…” VA Covers Up Vet Suicide Rate

Last November CBS News ran a story on the epidemic of veteran suicides. Noting that the current administration has glaringly neglected to tally a nationwide rate, correspondent Armen Keteyian led an independent investigation that, based on information from 45 states, revealed 6,256 vet suicides in 2005 alone – a rate double that of the general population.

Yet Dr. Ira Katz, head of mental health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, was outraged by the story. He insisted the number was much smaller and that the rates fell within normal limits. “There is no epidemic,” he said. The VA then provided CBS with data that indicated a total of 790 vets committed suicide while under VA treatment in 2007.

However an internal email surfaced last week, written by Katz in December. It tells a different story.

Subject: Not for the CBS News interview request

Shh!

Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address … before someone stumbles on it?

Ira R. Katz MD, PhD Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Office for Mental Health

Publicly the VA claims 790 per year, while internally it admits a prevalence over 15 times higher:12,000 per year. Even more staggering is that the actual number is even higher. The figure of 1,000 per month includes only those vets in treatment with the VA at the time of their deaths. A recent study by the Rand Corporation shows that although one in five vets experience symptoms of mental impairment, such as PTSD or severe depression, nearly half neglect to seek treatment. One barrier is the fact that military medical records are public and the move could negatively affect a vet’s career.

Additionally Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America reports a bureaucratic chaos that has left 1.8 million discharged vets without health insurance, and an overwhelmed system where 400,000 disability claims are currently pending, nearly 20% of which are over six months old. According to IAVA, at least one inside official admits that the VA’s inability to deal with the influx of wounded vets, most especially those with brain injury and mental health issues, has made care “virtually inaccessible” at some clinics.

Another factor is the troubling intentional misdiagnosis of “personality disorders” on men and women who actually suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

More on this in the next post…

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