VA's Back-Of-The-Envelope Calculation

The Department of Veterans Affairs has many caring employees who are truly committed to helping veterans. We'd like to see the agency continue to do great work and want veterans who are suicidal to know that help is available (1-800-273-TALK).

When we interviewed the VA's head of Mental Health, Dr. Ira Katz, he expressed sincere concern for the loss of even one veteran to suicide. So we are pleased to see that the VA issued a press release after our reports stating that it is "accelerating [it's] own research ... to prevent these tragedies."

But the agency was also critical of our report, saying that the "broadcast was not reviewed by independent scientists as most legitimate studies are."

We have great confidence in the accuracy of our data and how it was collected and analyzed. Look at our methodology for more information on the care we took in gathering and reporting our data.

The purpose of our investigation was to bring to light the fact that no one is keeping count of suicide statistics for those who have served in the military. The numbers were what they were. The point is: If you don't know the exact numbers how can you tell if the prevention programs are working?

You could argue that the VA should probably look at its own data analysis if it wants to find flaws. Not only has the agency never actually counted veteran suicides nationwide, but the one time it came up with a nationwide estimate of suicides, its methodology was, well ... it turns out, there was no methodology.

In February of this year, Dr. Katz did a presentation in which he estimated that as many as 5,000 veterans each year commit suicide. When Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian asked Dr. Katz how he came up with that number, this is what he said: It was a "back-of-the-envelope calculation."

We wonder just what "independent scientists" the VA had review that envelope.

Click the video box to the left to see an excerpt of the interview.