Military Wire: VA wait times falsified while veteran suicides climb

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Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler

USA Today reported recently that “Employees at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly ‘zeroed out’ veteran wait times.”

The manipulation of the data masked the growing demand on services, preventing a response to increase services where needed. As a result, some veterans simply died waiting on services because of a “zeroed out” backlog or long wait times.

This entire topic is simply tired. It seems like once every month new evidence emerges highlighting the failure of those who are charged with ensuring our veterans receive the care they’ve earned. As I write this piece, not only does my frustration grow, but I think of the ineffective role the government has played in working to reduce suicides – at taxpayer expense of course.

So I’m going to offer a solution – but before I do so, let me provide a bit of history for those who aren’t quite as familiar with the issue.

Five years ago, the veteran suicide rate was 16, then quickly advanced to 18, then 20 and finally to the most commonly reported number of 22 per day, plus 1 active duty per day.
Some veterans’ groups and impartial studies actually suggest the real number is more like 35 per day. The delta between the veterans’ groups numbers and the VA numbers comes from the fact that the VA only counts the suicides of veterans enrolled in VA programs at the time of their self-inflicted death.

There are many that aren’t enrolled in VA programs.

In 2014, Veterans for Common Sense publicly accused the VA of “cooking the books on suicide data.” The group cited revelations exposed by USA Today regarding a secret campaign by VA officials to hide the number of veteran suicides, especially among those who were being treated by the Veterans Administration.

They may have been on to something, especially since investigators discovered the manipulation of veteran wait times.

I’m often asked why veterans commit suicide. There are a thousand different reasons – the two most sited are a lack of mission and purpose.

But for others it could be the desire to end physical or emotional pain caused by their wartime experience that often is treated through some heavy drug cocktail prescribed by the VA. Imagine your life where you are prescribed countless drugs that make you feel even less human? Some are looking for a permanent solution to a lifelong problem.
The answer lies in understanding why suicide looks attractive in the first place.

Frank Selden – friend, attorney, author, and combat veteran – has penned a new book called The Suicide Solution that truly takes a different approach to the suicide issue.
And you can be a part of its success.

Frank shares that, “If you truly want to help, understanding why suicide looks attractive to [the individual] will work better than handing them a book you hope will fix them.” Frank’s book offers a very personal experience – that isn’t just anecdotal but also chock full of research – and by reading the book you’ll gain an understanding as to why suicide looks attractive. It will also provide tools for creating tenable solutions.

The book consists of three distinct parts. It begins with a discussion on the benefits of suicide; what suicide solves as analyzed from a personal, community and public viewpoint. Then the book turns to the damage done by suicide, again from these three perspectives. The final section offers solutions to the problems created by taking one’s life.

Frank is offering individuals the opportunity to help bring the book to market through a Kickstarter campaign. The link will also introduce you to Frank and his story.
Bottom line: True leaders are transparent; the VA is obviously void of true leadership – and decisions to cover-up issues led to veterans dying. Should they not be held accountable? While we might not be able to influence what reprimands are assigned, we all can influence the suicide number by beginning to have an honest discussion on the topic – which includes not only the “why not to” but also a discussion on the “why it looks attractive” through the eyes of those who are struggling.

— By Michael Schindler

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs

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