Monday, April 28, 2008

VA denies cover up of veteran suicide rates

The Associated Press reported from a San Francisco trial April 25 that a top-ranking Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official defends the department's treatment of disabled veterans and said there's not an agency cover up of the number of veterans committing suicide.

Dr. Michael Kussman, a VA undersecretary for health, testified at the trial on whether the VA is providing adequate mental health care and other medical services to millions of veterans.

Two veterans groups are suing the VA asking the department to process applications more quickly and deliver better mental health care to help prevent suicides and treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The groups contend that veteran suicides are rising at alarming rates in large part because of VA failures," The AP reported. "In court, plaintiffs' lawyer Arturo Gonzalez clashed Thursday with Kussman over how to compile and report the suicide rates.

"For instance, VA Secretary James Peake told Congress in a Feb. 5 letter that 144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide between October 2001 and December 2005. But Gonzalez produced internal VA e-mails that contended that 18 veterans a day were committing suicide. Kussman countered that the figure, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included all 26 million veterans in the country, including aging Vietnam veterans who are reporting an increased number of health problems."