Friday, April 25, 2008

Suicide and Veterans: A Coverup?

I've written previously on the growing body of research suggesting an "epidemic" of suicide and attempted suicide amongst our military veterans, particularly last fall's CBS investigation of the breadth and scope of the problem.

Last night I was surprised to see this segment of the Dan Abrams show "Verdict", which discusses a possible "cover-up" of the growing numbers of suicide on behalf of the Veterans Administration.

The NYT had a similar mention of this story on Tuesday. (emphasis mine)

The number — 126 suicides a week, higher than the 120 published in previous studies — was in a December e-mail message from Dr. Ira Katz, the head of mental health services for Veterans Affairs, to Dr. Michael J. Kussman, the under secretary for the Veterans Health Administration in the department. Mr. Erspamer displayed the message in his opening argument.

The department has long been reluctant to release specific numbers regarding suicides or suicide attempts, lawyers for the veterans groups said. “We certainly think there was a cover-up in some sense,” said Heather Moser, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

A second department e-mail message from Dr. Katz shown at the trial starts with “Shh!” and refers to the 12,000 veterans per year who attempt suicide while under department treatment. “Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?” it asks.

I understand the reluctance and "taboo" of suicide in our culture. As I previously wrote, "we remain, as a society, loathe to discuss or even acknowledge it."

Perhaps "cover up" is too strong a term, but to acknowledge 790 attempts of suicide by veterans and call it a "limited problem," when in reality you have evidence that more than 12,000 vets are attempting suicide each year, is outrageous. And to seemingly take steps to hide the evidence (or whisper about it) by writing "Shh!" in an email, even more stupefying.

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