Amid Allegations of Healthcare Problems at the Phoenix VA, Another Veteran Suicide

The Phoenix Veterans' Affairs Health Care System has come under fire for allegations of negligence and delayed care. While delayed care can have drastic consequences on vets who are physically ill, it impacts those who are mentally ill as well.

On January 13, a veteran committed suicide in the Phoenix VA parking lot. His body was found the next day. In an e-mail to the staff obtained by New Times, Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman stated that the veteran was "alone and did not not seek medical care through nearby emergency services on the day of the incident." This suicide does not appear to have been reported in the media until now.

Additionally, about six months before that, Daniel Summers, a 30-year-old Iraq War veteran from Phoenix, took his life. In his suicide note, which his family shared, Summers said the government gave him "no help" for the injuries he suffered in combat, claiming that he was unable to receive immediate medical care.

Arizona has some of the highest rates of veteran suicides, with vets making up over one in five suicides nationally. Matthew Andrade, a veteran who served in Iraq, believes the high suicide rate could be due to the quick transition from combat to civilian life.

"You go from all the horrible things you experience in war straight into what people consider normal life," Andrade says. "That transition's hard for veterans."

Upon returning from combat, many veterans struggle with adjusting to civilian life. Some suffer from PTSD or other psychological disorders. And while the VA offers a variety of services to treat a whole array of issues, sometimes it's not enough.

"It took me almost three years to get my compensation to where it was supposed to be for my PTSD disability. They told me to my face that they were just so backlogged with cases, that they're struggling to keep up," Andrade says. "There's just so many veterans getting out that need this assistance that they can't keep up."

Allegations of misconduct against the VA include mismanagement, undeserved bonuses, and falsifying records, which have already led to congressional hearings. As a result of the allegations, the VA released a statement saying that they asked for an external review by the VA Inspector General to investigate.

"If the OIG finds areas that need to be improved, we will swiftly address them as our goal is to provide the best care possible to our Veterans," the statement says.

U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, has already called for action in certain states, including Arizona.

"When errors do occur, and they seem to be occurring with alarming frequency, what VA owes our veterans and our taxpayers, in that order, is a timely, transparent, accurate, and honest account about what mistakes happened, how those mistakes are being fixed, and what concrete actions are being taken to ensure accountability," Miller said at a committee hearing last Wednesday.

But some legislators are working on change. U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona introduced legislation earlier this year to provide additional veteran medical services to help overcome VA backlog, and she recently introduced legislation to help protect veterans' personal information in the VA system. But for now, advocates want the system to properly provide help for veterans.

"Sometimes we struggle," Andrade says. "We just want the care that veterans need to function and become contributing members of society again."

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.

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Sarah Dinell
Contact: Sarah Dinell