"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no
matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they preceive the
veterans of earlier wars were Treated and Appreciated by their nation."
The issue of veterans affairs has seen an upsurge of interest in the past few weeks, as Dr. Ira Katz, an official in the Veteran's Affairs Department, is coming under fire from Congress, after giving misleading information to a CBS reporter, who was researching for a story about sucide rates among veterans.
During an interview given in November for the original CBS story, Dr. Katz told reporter Armen Keteyian that "There is no epidemic in suicide in the VA, but suicide is a major problem." When pressed for an answer to explain the VA's inability to come up with any suicide statistics among veterans, Katz replied "That research is ongoing."
However, "After a public records request, the VA provided CBS News with data that showed there were a total of 790 attempted suicides by VA patients in the entire year of 2007." This number does not match up at all with a private email sent by Dr. Katz to a colleague in which he states that the VA has identified "about 1000 suicide attempts a month in patients we see at are medical facilities," a far cry from his public estimate of 790 a year.
Compared with the number of suicide attempts, the number of actual suicides is monstrous in comparision. CBS news identified a total of 6,256 suicides in 2005 among veterans of the "war on terror," double the national average, although that number does not include the 5 states who refused to provide their suicide statistics for the CBS report.
As he did with the statistics for attempted suicides, Dr. Katz again played a two-faced persona. Katz declared that the "number is not, in fact, an accurate reflection of the rate."
Nevertheless, Dr. Katz told colleagues in another private email that "There are about 18 suicides per day among America's 25 million veterans," and "4-5 suicides per day among those who receive care from us [the VA]." Katz goes on to add that his figures are ironically "supported by the CBS numbers," which he disparaged previously in public.
In his later email titled "Shh!" Dr. Katz asks colleagues if the suicide statistics should be buried by dropping them into "a general release about our suicide prevention efforts," "before somebody stumbles onto them."
Yet, at a trial yesterday in San Francisco, brought about by a lawsuit from a veteran's group, VA officials remained non-compliant as usual, even defending a two-month old letter from Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake which claimed that only "144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide between October 2001 and December 2005," although the VA's own director of mental health said drastically otherwise in an email only 8 days later.
Our President has said that "Support of our veterans has been a high priority in my administration," and that "health care for our veterans is a top priority." Nevertheless, President Bush has substantially raised prescription drug prices for veterans during his tenure, and in 2005 instituted a new $250 fee for veterans to pay in order for them to continue "the privilege of using government health care."
Vice President Cheney even defended the move, saying that the 2005 budget in which the new fee was first started, "was the tightest budget that has been submitted since we got here." In fact, the 2005 budget was $200 billion higher than the previous one in 2004, and more than $500 billion higher than the Bush administration's first budget in 2001.
In February, Bush administration lawyers argued that veterans from the "war on terror," have no right to "any particular medical service" other than what the VA deems is best. This is due to another class-action lawsuit against the Bush administration by veterans who are being denied mental health care because the administration alleges that money appropriated by Congress for that purpose was meant "to authorize, but not require, medical [mental] care for veterans."
This begs the question, why else was the money appropriated if it was not meant for mental care? Imagine the administration using the same reasoning for defense appropriations. I hardly doubt I would ever hear administration lawyers denying the military tanks or planes because they claimed that the money appropriated for them did not "require" their use.
Yet, we have a President who fights in court to deny mental care for veterans while officials at his Veterans Affairs Department tells each other in emails that 18 veterans are committing suicide every day, while denying the very same facts in public.
The president has said that our veterans have created "a debt that we can never fully repay." One way to start would be to give them the medical care that they need.