Tempers Flare At Hearing On Vet Suicides

A suicide awareness poster are displayed during testimony by Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake, second right, at the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing regarding veterans' suicides on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 6, 2008. Also pictured are Dr. Ira Katz, Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer for Mental Health at the Veterans Health Administration, left, and Dr. Gerald Cross, Principal Under Secretary for Health at the Veterans Health Administration, right. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) AP Photo

The name of the hearing said it all: "The truth about veteran suicides."

After playing clips of recent CBS News reports from April 21st and 25th of this year outlining attempts within the Department of Veterans Affairs to "cover up" suicide data, Committee Chairman Bob Filner lashed out at the man in charge, Secretary James Peake, accusing the V.A. of "criminal negligence," reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

"What we see is a pattern -- deny, deny, deny." Filner said.

With his embattled Director of Mental Health Dr. Ira Katz at his side, Secretary Peake presented a detailed series of charts and graphs generally backing CBS News suicide data.

"Far from hiding this issue we are more public about it than any organization that I know," Peake said.

"I've never had concern about their overall estimate for numbers of veteran suicides," Katz told the committee.

But several lawmakers weren't buying it, citing a Feb. 13 e-mail titled "Not for CBS News" where Katz appears to be trying to keep attempted suicide numbers quiet.

Read the e-mail, "Re: Not For the CBS News Interview Request"
Read an e-mail quoting suicide numbers
"That was very unfortunate," Katz said. "It was an error. I apologize for that."

Outside the hearing room we asked Peake to answer repeated calls from Congress for Katz's resignation.

"I do not have any intention of relieving Dr. Katz," Peake said.

"So Dr. Katz stays?" asked Keteyian.

"That's my plan, absolutely," Peake answered.

Peake said the plan now is to sweep aside any talk of a cover-up and tell Congress and the American public the truth about veteran suicides.

CBS News first reported on the epidemic of suicide in the V.A. in November 2007, finding that more than 6,000 veterans killed themselves in 2005 alone. That averages out to more than 120 per week. Katz immediately dismissed our report at a December 12th committee hearing, saying CBS's numbers were not "an accurate reflection of the rates."
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