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VA Official Denies Cover-Up of Veterans' Suicide Statistics

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A Department of Veterans Affairs official has testified that his agency has not tried to cover up the number of suicides committed by veterans, the Associated Press reports.

Testifying last Thursday at a trial in a San Francisco federal court, VA undersecretary for health Dr. Michael Kussman said the discrepancy in the number of suicides his agency reported to Congress and the number found in VA documents was because of different veteran categories included in the statistics.

VA Secretary James Peake had reported in February that 144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide between October 2001 and December 2005, the A.P. reports. But the plaintiffs' lawyer produced internal VA e-mails indicating that 18 veterans a day were committing suicide, the wire service says.

The discrepancy, Kussman testified is that the internal emails included all 26 million veterans, and that Vietnam veterans were killing themselves in increasing numbers, possibly because of having more health problems as they age. The lawsuit was brought by two veterans groups who allege government neglect in providing timely and adequate health care for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, the A.P. reports.

"I disagree with the premise that there was some effort to cover something up," the wire service quotes Kussman as testifying. "We don't obfuscate."

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