VA Names Experts To Study Suicides

generic, Veterans Affairs seal, AP/file
AP / file
This story was written by CBS News producer Pia Malbran for

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that the agency is bringing together fourteen experts to analyze veteran suicides. This comes after much criticism that the VA has not been forthcoming about the true risk of suicide among veterans.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake appointed the experts to make up two special groups intended to help the VA improve suicide prevention, research and education. He said "there is nothing more tragic than the death by suicide of even one of the great men or women who have served this nation."

"I hope the creation of this panel means the VA is seriously addressing the crisis of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who take their own lives," said Congressman Jerry McNerney, a Democrat from California, who is one of several lawmakers concerned that the VA has been downplaying the issue.

The first group, dubbed the "Blue Ribbon Work Group on Suicide Prevention in the Veterans Population", will consist of five government employees from the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The second group consists of nine nationally renowned suicide experts who the VA says will provide advice to the working group on what the agency should do.

"It looks like they have put together real talented and quality people," said Prof. David Rudd, the chair of the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech University who is also a former Army psychologist. He says what the VA is doing is extremely important because "this is a tough issue that involves life and death and it should be treated that way."

Congressman McNerney, however, has some reservations about what the groups will accomplish. He told CBS News that the "VA is clearly well-positioned to address this concern, my fears stem from several recent incidents that suggest the VA may not be addressing the full scale of this problem."

Earlier this month, a Congressional hearing was held on Capitol Hill in which the VA was questioned about a series of internal emails that appear to show top VA officials purposely concealing critical suicide information. The most damaging email was written by the VA's head of mental health Dr. Ira Katz who privately revealed to his media advisor that there are about 1,000 suicide attempts per month by veterans under the VA's care. In his email, Dr. Katz wrote "Shh" and then asked what should be done with the information before "someone stumbles on it." Dr. Katz has apologized for the language he used in the email calling it an "error."

The working group is scheduled to meet June 11 to 13 and will then generate a report with recommendations that will be submitted to Secretary Peake within 15 days. The VA told CBS News that none of the experts will be paid other than the reimbursement of travel and a per diem allowance in accordance with the Federal Travel Regulations.

Here is a complete list of the experts:

The "Blue Ribbon Work Group on Suicide Prevention in the Veterans Population":

Cmdr. Alex E. Crosby, M.D., medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Colonel Charles W. Hoge, M.D., director of the division of psychiatry and behavior services at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

Colonel Robert Roy Ireland, M.D., program director for mental health policy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

Richard McKeon, Ph.D., special advisor for suicide prevention with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Jane Pearson, Ph.D., associate director for preventive interventions, National Institute of Mental Health

Expert panel:

Dr. Dan Blazer II, professor of psychology at Catholic University of America

Greg Brown, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Martha Livingston Bruce, Ph.D., professor in clinical epidemiology and health services research at Weill Medical College of Cornell University

Dr. Eric D. Caine, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Rochester

Dr. Jan Fawcett, professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Robert D. Gibbons, director of the Center for Health Statistics, University of Illinois at Chicago

David Alan Jobes, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Catholic University of America

Mark S. Kaplan, Ph.D., from Portland State University. Member of the Suicide Prevention Action Network-USA National Scientific Advisory Council

Thomas R. Ten Have, director of the Biostatistics Analysis Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

By: Pia Malbran