Investigation Shows Depression May Run Deeper Than VA Reports
by Jacqueline Klimas
The Washington Times, Dec. 24, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Veteran suicide is a major issue on Capitol Hill, but policymakers may be making decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate data, according to several investigations that suggest depression could be a far larger problem than the one-in-10 figure the Department of Veterans Affairs cites.
Investigators found that almost two-thirds of the forms used to track veterans’ suicides were incomplete. Some lacked critical information such as the date the veteran died or when the veteran was treated at a VA hospital.
A data entry error and vague standards for doctors writing reports may mean the number of veterans suffering from serious depression could be much higher than the 10 percent the VA reports.
The Government Accountability Office also found that no one was charged with checking the accuracy of the forms at the central office, suggesting the problem could be much wider than the six hospitals that the GAO sampled.
“Lack of complete, accurate, and consistent data and poor oversight can inhibit VA’s ability to identify, evaluate, and improve ways to better inform its suicide prevention efforts,” the GAO report said.
Lawmakers stalemated this month on a bill to bring more resources to the VA to try to lower the rate of suicides. One key provision would have pushed the VA to study best practices to see what programs work.
A Defense Department inspector general’s report from November found a high number of “don’t know” or “data unavailable” answers in suicide questionnaires from 2011, the most recent year data were available, suggesting the problem of inaccurate record-keeping extends beyond the VA.
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