Sunday, May 4, 2008

The VA, Suicide, and Fuzzy Math

The VA has been saying that 800 vets attempt suicide each year, which in of itself is an unacceptably high number. Sadly, they have been under reporting that number by roughly 11,200 attempts a year. The Seattle Times reports:

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs has lied about the number of veterans who have attempted suicide, Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday, citing internal e-mails that put the number at 12,000 a year while the department was publicly saying it was fewer than 800.

"The suicide rate is a red alarm bell to all of us," said Murray, D-Wash., adding that the VA's mental-health programs are being overwhelmed by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as the department seeks to downplay the situation. "We are not your enemy, we are your support team, and unless we get accurate information, we can't be there to do our jobs."

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon Mansfield apologized during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing, saying he did not think there was a deliberate attempt to mislead Congress or the public.

Which sounds good, until one keeps reading:

The e-mails, uncovered as part of a class-action lawsuit filed against the VA in San Francisco, was reported by CBS News on Monday.

"Our suicide-prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities," Katz wrote in a Feb. 13 e-mail to Ev Chasen, the department's communication director. "Is this something we should [carefully] address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"

Chasen responded: "I think this is something we should discuss among ourselves, before issuing a press release. Is the fact we are stopping them good news, or is the sheer number bad news? And is this more than we have ever seen before?"

Now, I understand that this story is 10 days old, which is 100,432,647 days old in the blogsphere, but I have not seen much of this, probably because it is not nearly as important what Sen. Obama's former pastor said, which is what MSNBC is broadcasting as I type this.

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