Some news stories are so outrageous that they leave one virtually speechless. That's the case with allegations — reported Thursday in the Star-Telegram by Les Blumenthal of McClatchy Newspapers —that the Veterans Affairs Department lied about the number of veterans who tried to kill themselves while under its care.
We're being nice to call them allegations. The claims are based on e-mails discovered as part of a class-action lawsuit against the VA in San Francisco. CBS News reported on the e-mails earlier in the week.
The department had been saying publicly that there were fewer than 800 suicide attempts a year, but the e-mails put the figure at an average of 1,000 a month.
Even if those numbers are greatly inflated, they are still shocking. And that someone tried to hide them is outrageous and despicable.
North Texans had an indication of the growing problem.
Star-Telegram writer Chris Vaughn reported earlier in April that the VA Medical Center in Dallas had stopped admitting patients to its psychiatric ward after a string of suicides. There have been four this year. Dr. Catherine Orsak, the hospital's associate chief of staff for mental health, told the newspaper that until this year, the unit had not had an inpatient suicide in the 10 years she has worked there.
Why hide this?
Who is helped or protected by understating the seriousness of this issue? Shouldn't veterans, their families and VA personnel know that this is a potential problem?
If the issue is somehow associated with treatment protocols at the VA, determine that and fix them. If there is a more systemic issue related to military service, let's identify the underlying causes and fix them.
But if this is a matter of officials trying to cover their backsides over a problem they don't want to admit, track down every one of them responsible and fire them.
Maybe that'll send a message to the next bunch that the lives of our veterans are more important than their next job evaluation.
Shame on them.
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram