Award for Dr. Katz slaps veterans


I still believe in NAMI but I no longer believe in the NAMI Veterans Council. The decision to award Dr. Ira Katz for suicide prevention is akin to awarding a vampire for testing blood. Katz, as reported here (on Wounded Times) countless times, was refusing to admit there was a problem with veterans committing suicide. Everything he did, what they are awarding him for, he was forced to do. The Veterans Council is giving him an award for what it took an act of Congress to do!

This is one of the stories about a soldier that committed suicide.

The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce
text and photos by Ashley Gilbertson, from the Virginia Quarterly Review

Noah Pierce’s headstone gives his date of death as July 26, 2007, though his family feels certain he died the night before, when, at age 23, he took a handgun and shot himself in the head. No one is sure what pushed him to it. He said in his suicide note it was impotence—one possible side effect of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was “the snowflake that toppled the iceberg,” he wrote. But it could have been the memory of the Iraqi child he crushed under his Bradley. It could have been the unarmed man he shot point-blank in the forehead during a house-to-house raid, or the friend he tried madly to gather into a plastic bag after he had been blown to bits by a roadside bomb, or it could have been the doctor he killed at a checkpoint.

Noah grew up in Sparta, Minnesota, a town of fewer than 1,000 on the outskirts of the Quad Cities—Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, and Gilbert—on the Mesabi Iron Range. Discovered on the heels of the Civil War, the range’s ore deposit is the largest in the United States. Around the clock, deep metallic groans come out of the ground and freight trains barrel through, horns screeching. Locals are proud of their hardworking, hard-drinking heritage. There are more than 20 bars on Eveleth’s half-mile-long main street. On a typical night last May, loudspeakers affixed to lampposts blared John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and Harleys thundered through town. One bar closed early, when a drunk got thrown through the front window.

Noah was a quiet, sensitive kid. He kept a tight circle of friends and passed time with them building tree forts and playing army in the woods. Noah’s biological father separated from Noah’s mother shortly after she became pregnant, but Tom Softich, Noah’s stepfather, treated the thin-skinned boy as his own. When Noah turned 6, Tom took him hunting, and by 13 Noah had his own high-powered rifle. For practice, they went rabbit shooting together at a small clearing a mile from their house. It became such a regular place to find Noah that his family and friends began referring to the clearing simply as “the spot.”

When Noah went missing in July 2007, after a harrowing year adjusting to home following two tours in Iraq, police ordered a countywide search. His friend Ryan Nelson thought he might know where to look. When he pulled up to the spot, he immediately recognized Noah’s truck. Inside, Ryan found his friend slumped over the bench seat, his head blown apart, the gun in his right hand. Half a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Special Blend lay on the passenger seat, and beer cans were strewn about. On the dash lay Noah’s photo IDs; he had stabbed each photo through the face. And on the floorboard was the scrawled, rambling suicide note. It was his final attempt to explain the horrors he had seen—and committed.

In April 2008, Ira R. Katz, deputy chief patient care services officer for mental health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, became embroiled in scandal when a memo surfaced in which he instructed members of his staff to suppress the results of an internal investigation into the number of veterans attempting suicide. Based on their surveys, along with tabulations from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control, Katz estimated that between 550 and 650 veterans were committing suicide each month. It pains Noah’s family and friends that the Pentagon will never add him—nor the thousands like him—to the official tally of 4,000-plus war dead.

Likewise, PTSD and minor traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) are excluded from the count of 50,000 severe combat wounds—even though PTSD and MTBI often have far greater long-term health effects than bullet wounds or even lost limbs. A study by the RAND Corporation found that approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans—one in five—suffer from depression or stress disorders and another 320,000 suffer from MTBIs that place them at a higher risk for depression and stress disorders.

Noah’s mother, Cheryl Softich, believes her son’s death could have been avoided had he received counseling. Statistically, veterans outside the VA system are four times more likely to attempt suicide than those within the system. Now Cheryl’s mission is to have a clause inserted into every standard military contract that would require veterans to visit a therapist every two weeks of the first year after a combat deployment. “Soldiers are taught to follow orders,” she says. “It needs to be mandatory. Noah was an excellent soldier, and if it was mandatory, he would have gone faithfully to every appointment.”

Yet this is what the Veterans Council released for the award to Katz

NAMI Veterans Council Dedication To Veterans Mental Health Care Award

Ira Katz, MD

Dr. Ira Katz left a comfortable position at the University of Pennsylvania and the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia to join the Department of Veterans Affairs. Within two years of his arrival, members of Congress and the press were calling for his resignation or termination over the issue of rising suicides among veterans, especially veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In spite of blistering criticism, Dr. Katz worked tirelessly behind the scenes to launch the VA's first ever suicide prevention initiative, including a nation wide crisis call line in conjunction with SAMHSA that has intervened in thousands of potential suicides by veterans. While managing this delicate task and fending off critics, Dr. Katz spearheaded VA-wide approval of a dramatic reform of its mental health programs to embrace recovery principles. All veterans receiving mental healthcare in the VA are better served today because of the work of Dr. Ira Katz. We are proud to honor him for his dedication to improving the mental health and the mental health care of veterans.
NAMI Convention


I am so furious over this that yesterday I resigned from the Veterans Council. I can no longer participate or support any group so oblivious to the facts, they saw fit to award Katz for this. NAMI giving award to Dr. Katz for being forced to change?

When you read the stories about other people in NAMI and how much they are doing for the veterans, this is an appalling decision. Matt Kuntz is a member of NAMI. He has done more for the troops and the National Guard, in turn, for the veterans as well. We tend to forget that when the members of the National Guard come back they are once again citizens and fall into the veteran role. This is what Matt Kuntz did.

Thursday, April 9, 2009
Support the The Post Deployment Health Assessment Act of 2009
Matt Kuntz, the keynote speaker at our upcoming Annual Education Conference, has asked us to take a few minutes to contact our Congressional Representatives and Senators to ask them to support comprehensive mental health screenings for our returning soldiers.Two years ago, Matt, the Executive Director of NAMI Montana and one of President Obama's "18 Ordinary Americans Making an Extraordinary Difference," lost his step-brother Chris Dana to a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) induced suicide sixteen months after he returned from Iraq.

The events around Chris’s death led Governor Brian Schweitzer and the Montana National Guard to develop the premier program in the country for caring for National Guard members suffering from PTSD. Matt says, "The foundation of this successful system is a series of five face-to-face mental health screenings that every returning service member must complete upon their return home from combat."This broad screening program overcomes the traditional barriers that have kept service members from receiving treatment for PTSD. Over forty percent of the individuals that have completed the screening asked for help in dealing with their combat stress injuries.

Senator Max Baucus introduced “The Post Deployment Health Assessment Act of 2009” to implement this common sense screening program throughout our fighting force. The Act would require face-to-face screening before deployment, upon return home, and then every six months for two years. This basic and effective program will help safeguard the mental health of our entire fighting force for approximately the same price tag as a single F-22 Fighter. The Act is supported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the National Guard Association, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

Please take a few minutes out of your day to contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators to ask them to support this critical legislation. Our military suicide rates are at record levels and climbing. We can’t afford to wait any longer to help our heroes get the care they deserve. You can follow this link to find your Representatives’ and Senators’ contact information:

President Obama met with Matt while he was still a senator.
Barack Talks to Vets in BillingsBy Zach in Helena - Aug 28th, 2008 at 1:52 pm EDT

Senator Obama spoke to a group of veterans and military families yesterday at Riverfront Park in Billings. He spoke at length on the failures of the current administration to take care of the nation’s veterans, before taking questions from the audience on a variety of issues. You can watch his remarks about veterans, energy, and the VA system here.What's going on right now, the simple fact is we're not doing right by our veterans. Not here in Montana, and not anywhere in the United States, and I want you to know that one of the reasons I'm running for president of the United States is because I want to make sure that today's veterans are treated like my grandfather was, when he came home, he got the GI Bill and was able to go to college and got FHA loans to go to school and was treated with honor. As President I'm going to make sure that the VA system in Montana gets the oversight, direction, and resources it needs to do the job. [Watch the video]

Then Senator Obama laid blame where it belonged

In Billings, Obama blames GOP for veteran troubles
In Billings, Obama blames GOP for veteran troubles
Billings Gazette
BILLINGS - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, speaking Wednesday in Billings, faulted Republican leaders for chronically underfunding veteran services for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.“I have some significant differences with McCain and George Bush about the war in Iraq,” Obama said. “But one thing I thought we'd agree to is when the troops came home, we'd treat them with the honor and respect they deserve.”Several trends indicate veterans are not getting the health care and other benefits they need to succeed at home, Obama told a group of around 200 people during an invitation-only morning listening session in Riverfront Park.

Armed services veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless than Americans who don't serve. In Montana, roughly half the veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder go untreated for the psychological condition, Obama said.

Before speaking, the candidate met for several minutes with the family of Spec. Chris Dana, a Montana National Guard veteran suffering from PTSD who committed suicide in March 2007, several months after returning from Iraq. Dana's stepbrother, Matt Kuntz, became a vocal advocate for better treatment of PTSD after Dana's death.

Jess Bahr, a Vietnam veteran, drove more than 200 miles from Great Falls to hear Obama. Before being bused to the event with a veteran-heavy crowd, Bahr said the number of homeless U.S. veterans was inexcusable and that the needs of retired warriors across the country were being ignored by communities.“In Great Falls, they're building a $6.5 million animal shelter and we don't have a shelter for veterans. What does that tell you about priorities?” asked Bahr, a 1967 Army draftee who survived the Tet Offensive, a nine-month series of battles that resulted in more than 6,000 deaths and 24,000 injuries among American and allied troops during the Vietnam War.
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If you ever listened to the hearings on CSPAN, you would know what kind of a crisis the veterans were in. Joshua Omvig was one more of many committing suicide because the help they needed was not there. The suicide prevention Katz is being award for took and act of Congress to begin.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Bush Signs Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill into Law
With the stroke of a pen President George W. Bush signed the Joshua Omvig bill into law, ending a drawn-out political chapter that overcame a procedural hold in the Senate. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who named the bill after one of his constituents, Joshua Omvig of Grundy Center. Omvig committed suicide in Dec. 2005 after returning from an 11-month deployment in Iraq.

“By directing the Veterans Administration (VA) to develop a comprehensive program to reduce the rate of suicide among veterans the law will help thousands of young men and women who bravely served our country,” Boswell said in a press release following Bush’s Monday signing. “The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act not only honors Joshua’s service to his country but ensures that all veterans receive the proper mental health care they need.”

The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 327) is designed to help address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans by requiring mental health training for Veterans Affairs staff; a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility; and mental-health screening and treatment for veterans who receive VA care. It also supports outreach and education for veterans and their families, peer support counseling and research into suicide prevention. The VA had been implementing a number of these programs, but not in a timely manner, whereas the Joshua Omvig bill mandates these programs and subsequent deadlines as a means of expediting the process for returning veterans.

Bush Signs Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill into Law

It took law suits from groups to do, like Veterans for Common Sense, to call attention to the pain and suffering the veterans were going through.

With all of this, awarding Katz for what he was forced to do ignores what he did not do when he had the chance. Did he answer reporters questions honestly without trying to cover up the facts? No. He had the chance right there to fight for the veterans he was supposed to be working for instead of the administration causing the problems. All it would have taken was honesty. Imagine what that would have done for the veterans! If Katz put the veterans first instead of his job, he would have been a hero and truly deserving of such an honor. His courage would have caused such and uproar in this nation that there would be no way possible for him to be fired for doing the right thing for our veterans. He decided instead to fight for the administration and the veterans paid the price.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Tim Bowman

Mitchell takes on the stigma of vets' mental-health issues
The message reads: "It takes the courage and strength of a warrior to ask for help."It goes on to list the VA's suicide prevention hotline number: 800-273-TALK (8255).Mitchell takes on the stigma of vets' mental-health issuesby E.J. Montini - Jul. 22, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona RepublicLate last year at a congressional hearing in Washington, Rep. Harry Mitchell listened to a couple named Mike and Kim Bowman tell the story of their 23-year-old son, Tim, a soldier who had returned safely from his yearlong deployment in Iraq only to commit suicide at home."We already were hearing that suicide among veterans who were between 20 and 24 years old was 2½ times higher than non-veterans," Mitchell told me. "And I remember thinking to myself: 'We can't do this again.' "

Lucas Senescall

VA Refused Medical Care to Suicidal Veterans

July 20, 2008, Spokane, Washington - A distraught 26-year-old Navy veteran who had a history of mental illness hanged himself within three hours of seeking help at Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The July 7 death of Lucas Senescall was the sixth suicide this year of a veteran who had contact with the Spokane VA, a marked increase in such deaths.

Last year, there were two suicides among veterans treated at the local VA.

Last year I went to the NAMI convention and then interviewed Paul Sullivan over the law suit filed against the VA.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paul Sullivan clears up rumors on VA law suit

What caused Veterans for Common Sense to file the law suit against the VA?

Jonathan Schulze and Jeffrey Lucey, two Gulf War combat veterans with PTSD, were refused VA medical care even though they physically came to VA medical facilities with their families and told VA staff they were suicidal. Congress may legislate and perform oversight, yet the Court can force immediate action: one of our top priorities was to force VA from turning away suicidal veterans.

VCS initially filed Freedom of Information Act requests earlier in 2007 about suicides, and VA responded that they had no information. VCS also filed suit because the number of disability claims waiting for review has doubled in the past few years, and the length of time has increased from five months to more than six months.

However, VA executives paid themselves nearly $4 million in bonuses for their dismal performance. Furthermore, VA’s IG reported three times that 25 percent of veterans waited more than one month to see a doctor. VA testified under oath twice that the figure was less than 5 percent. Clearly, VA has a capacity crisis – too many veterans and not enough doctors or claims processors. Furthermore, the 23-page claim form and several healthcare enrollment forms are overly complex, especially for our veterans with PTSD or TBI. For more detailed information, please go to

What caused Veterans for Common Sense to join forces with Veterans United for Truth?

VUFT is another non-profit veteran advocacy group, and they are based in California.

How were the emails from Dr. Katz discovered?

After more than 8 months of delays, the Federal Court ORDERED VA to turn over the e-mails to our attorneys in our lawsuit as part of the discovery process.

What did Dr. Katz say to explain these emails?

He admitted they were true and that he wrote them. You can read his testimony at the SVAC web site where he offers evasive explanations.

What were the facts discovered as a result of these emails being found?

1. VA says they are monitoring completed and attempted suicides to see if there is a difference in suicide rates between veterans, war veterans, and non-veterans.

2. VA essentially confirmed the CBS study that found veterans are more likely to complete a suicide, and for younger veterans aged 18 – 24, they were three to four times more likely to complete a suicide..

3. VA completes “suicide incident reports” and “root cause analysis” reports for each completed suicide, yet then declares them confidential “quality assurance” and places them off limits to Congress, veterans’ families, and attorneys. It is very important for Congress and the Courts and the public to see these reports (with privacy protections of course) so that we can better understand why the veterans killed themselves, and how VA can be improved to prevent and reduce suicides.

How many suicides does the VA know about since the beginning of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq?

There is no national “veteran completed suicide” reporting system now, yet VA is under considerable pressure to begin working to identify all of them. VCS provided a methodology to Congress to identify as many as possible by starting with the list of 1.7 million deployed and then checking all federal, state, and local death certificates.

Currently, VA looks at death certificates where the document reports the person as a veteran. This is incomplete because many families do not know if a person was a veteran or the funeral home / coroner don’t ask. DoD only reports active duty suicides and excludes Reserve and National Guard suicides because they are not on Active Duty.. Our VCS methodology would identify all completed suicides among all 1.7 million, not just the incomplete pieces of the puzzle the DoD and VA currently look at.

How many attempted suicides does the VA know about during the same period?

See above. VA knows about attempted suicides only among those veterans receiving VA care, and that is about 1,000 per month, or 12,000 per year, based on Katz’ e-mail.

How did the emails end up with Senator Akaka and his committee?

The Katz e-mails were produced at trial in April 2008, and then journalists reported them to the public. I not exactly sure, yet I believe Sen. Akaka’s staff saw them in the widely reported press accounts of our trial.

Do you know about the Freedom of Information request to the VA by CREW and VoteVets?

Yes. It is too bad that VA still plays games with FOIA. VA should be forced to turn over the information. Embarrassing information is never a reason to deny a FOIA, as VA frequently does.

How did the email from Norma Perez end up in the hands of congress?

The Perez e-mail discouraging diagnoses for PTSD among veterans was sent by Perez to several VA staff, who in turn sent it to other VA staff, who in tern sent it to a veteran advocate in Texas. That person turned it over to VoteVets and CREW. VCS did not play a role in uncovering the e-mail, yet VCS did play a role in publicizing the e-mail.

What did the entire email suggest?

I would suggest reading the e-mail, as it speaks for itself.

How did that email end up with the congress and then incorporated into the law suit filed by Veterans For Common Sense?

The Perez e-mail and news articles were forwarded from me to our attorneys with a request that they investigate it. They did investigate it by sending a letter to the Dept. of Justice, who then authenticated it and confirmed that VA Secretary James Peake’s office knew about the Perez e-mail on April 7, 2008 – a full two weeks before our trial began, yet VA failed to provide it to our attorneys under discovery. Our attorneys then asked the judge to add the Perez e-mail to the body of evidence we introduced at trial. At a hearing earlier this month, the judge agreed with our attorneys, and the judge also admitted the entire Senate hearing transcript about the Perez e-mail into evidence – a victory for veterans. Sen. Akaka would know for sure, yet I believe he and his staff learned of the Perez e-mail from the press.

What is your view of these findings regarding the treatment of our veterans by the VA after these emails were discovered?

Nearly all VA employees are well-intended and want to assist veterans. I know this because I worked at VA and still know many VA employees. However, the system is overly complex, the system is overloaded, and the system is mired in a deep financial, leadership, and capacity crisis.

Compounding the problem is the disappointing fact that the current political appointees in Washington are incompetent at best, and malicious toward veterans at worst. This combination causes very serious adverse problems for VA, veterans, and families. The solution remains the obvious. VA needs an massive overhaul immediately.

VA needs new leaders, full mandatory funding, and significantly streamlined procedures so veterans can get fast and high-quality medical care and benefits. The situation is bad now, with 325,000 new and unplanned casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars flooding into VA hospitals and clinics, plus 288,000 unanticipated disability claims from recent war veterans. If the crisis is not addressed immediately with aggressive action, the current administration will be held responsible for crashing VA on the rocks.

Although VA had systemic problems in the 1990s and early 2000s, the situation spiraled out of control when Jim Nicholson became Secretary in early 2005. Nicholson, who had no experience with VA, healthcare, or disability claims, served as Karl Rove’s and Grover Norquist’s personal partisan wrecking ball to tear apart VA, bust up the unions, and privatize it. In the end, our only recourse was to file suit because veterans were literally completing suicide, yet VA leaders appeared oblivious to this life-or-death crisis.

In my view, we can learn the lessons from the Vietnam and Gulf wars, where many veterans with psychological trauma were neglected, and improve the situation. Or, we can take the current approach by VA: pinch pennies, bury your head in the sand, and leave the disaster to the next administration. The decision to fix VA was straightforward, yet the battle to fix VA is very hard.

Paul Sullivan
Executive Director
Veterans for Common Sense
Post Office Box 15514
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 558-4553

I want to thank Paul for his time and for all he has done for the veterans in this country. Think about the numbers of veterans his actions will make a difference for. He doesn't want more families to have to bury another son or daughter because the VA just didn't have room for them when they needed their wounds to be treated. We've all read too many stories like Jonathan's and Jeffrey's, or Tim Bowman, or Joshua Omvig, along with the hundreds of others we found in the media. Far too much suffering that did not need to happen.

Saving lives because it was the right thing to do came from other people and not Katz. By the interviews he had done, it's obvious that had he not been forced to act, he would have been happy denying the problem and "staying the course" as Bush often loved to say.

So what exactly is behind this award? Why award it to Katz of all people? Can the NAMI Veterans Council be so oblivious to the facts and what was behind what Katz was forced to do, they think he's the one to glorify? Can they be that ignorant? I doubt it. I met a lot of the people on the council and they are bright as well as deeply committed to our veterans. There are heroes all over this country doing great work for our veterans and they are on the council. So what is behind all of this? Are they sucking up to the VA? If this was the case then I'm sure they could have found someone else more worthy of this award in the VA. Whatever the reason behind this, whatever excuse for it, they have just done more damage to our veterans and slapped suffering families in the face. They have just decided that families like the ones you just read about are insignificant. If they really wanted to give an award to a hero they could have picked Matt or Paul Sullivan or any of the families with the courage to stand up and talk about their heartbreak.
cross post on Peace Tree and Wounded Times"


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