Eighteen American war Veterans kill themselves every day. One
thousand former soldiers receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs
attempt suicide every month. More veterans are committing suicide than are dying
in combat overseas.
These are statistics that most Americans don't know,
because the Bush administration has refused to tell them. Since the start of the
Iraq War, the government has tried to present it as a war without casualties.
In fact, they never would have come to light were it not for a class
action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for
Truth on behalf of the 1.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The two groups allege the Department of Veterans Affairs has
systematically denied mental health care and disability benefits to veterans
returning from the conflict zones.
The case, officially known as
Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, went to trial last month at a Federal
Courthouse in San Francisco. The two sides are still filing briefs until May 19
and waiting for a ruling from Judge Samuel Conti, but the case is already having
That's because over the course of the two week trial, the VA
was compelled to produce a series of documents that show the extent of the
crisis effecting wounded soldiers.
"Shh!" begins one e-mail from Dr. Ira
Katz, the head of the VA's Mental Health Division, advising a media spokesperson
not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill
themselves every month.
"Our suicide prevention coordinators are
identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in
our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address
ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the e-mail
Leading Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
immediately called for Katz's resignation. On May 6, the Chair of the House
Committee on Veterans Affairs, Bob Filner (D-CA) convened a hearing titled "The
Truth About Veteran's Suicides" and called Katz and VA Secretary James Peake to
"That e-mail was in poor tone but the content was part of a
dialogue about what we should do about new information," Katz said in response
to Filner's questions. "The e-mail represents a healthy dialogue among members
of VA staff about when it's appropriate to disclose and make public information
early in the process."
Filner was nonplused and accused Katz and Peake of
"We should all be angry about what has gone on here,"
Filner said. "This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are
responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was
handled. If we do not admit, assume or know then the problem will continue and
people will die. If that's not criminal negligence, I don't know what
It's also part of a pattern. The high number of veteran suicides
weren't the only government statistics the Bush Administration was forced to
reveal because of the class action lawsuit.
Another set of documents
presented in court showed that in the six months leading up to March 31, a total
of 1,467 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claim would be
approved by the government. A third set of documents showed that veterans who
appeal a VA decision to deny their disability claim have to wait an average of
1,608 days, or nearly four