VA Health Head Grilled Over Suicide Data

michael kussman CBS

This week, CBS News reported on charges of a cover up of suicide data at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, more damaging documents have come out in a lawsuit charging the VA fails to properly care for vets. Chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.
Lawyers suing the VA say the cover-up of suicide data was widespread.

"People within the VA who were withholding this information were not at the bottom of the totem pole," said Veterans Rights Attorney Arturo Gonzalez. "This went all the way up to the top."

Dr. Michael Kussman, the head of VA health care, was grilled in court about a series of e-mails written by top VA officials.

Read an e-mail, "Re: Not For the CBS News Interview Request"
Read an e-mail to Kussman quoting suicide numbers
The documents reveal how important information about veteran suicide was concealed from the public - and specifically from CBS News.

In an e-mail from March 10 of this year, a VA media adviser wrote: "I don't want to give CBS any more numbers on veteran suicides or attempts than they already have - it will only lead to more questions."

At the time, CBS News was preparing a report about attempted suicides among veterans under the VA's care.

When pressed about the e-mail, Kussman said he did not "recall" the message. And that he disagreed "with the premise that there was some effort to cover up something."

Read more on this story by Investigative Producer Pia Malbran.
Last November, CBS News revealed for the first time an epidemic of suicides among those who have served in the military including more than 6,200 in 2005 alone.

Dr. Ira Katz, the head of Mental Health for the VA, quickly disputed our report.

"Their number is not, in fact, an accurate reflection of the rates," Katz said.

But new e-mails made public in court this week show at the very same time, VA staff believed "there was no flaw in the way they [CBS News] calculated their data" and that the "methodology appears to be correct."

This week Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, co-sponsored a bill designed to break the silence. It would require the VA provide an annual accounting of veteran suicides and turn that data over to Congress.
  • Armen Keteyian

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