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Udall demands VA doctor resign

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By Carol A. Clark

In a letter to President Bush Thursday, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., called for the immediate resignation of Dr. Ira Katz, who heads up mental health programs at the Veterans Administration.

During a telephone interview Friday, Udall expressed outrage over revelations in a VA inspector general’s report released Thursday and e-mails between Katz and other VA officials released last week. The e-mails show the doctor and others were apparently trying to hide the facts of the rising number of suicide attempts by veterans.

“It looks like Dr. Katz has been covering up suicide attempts by our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Udall said. “We’re talking about 12,000 suicide attempts a year, and he’s been downplaying it to Congress.”

In his letter to Bush, Udall called the number of suicide attempts a staggering figure on a tragic issue. The fact that Dr. Katz not only denied the validity of these figures, but also presented testimony to Congress and to the public that was egregiously misleading is absolutely unacceptable, he said.

“While no one welcomes such statistics, is it vital that we know the true scope and depth of the situation,” Udall said. “By presenting incorrect information, Dr. Katz delayed attention to the issue. I demand that he resign his position and that he take full responsibility for his actions.”

Udall also urged Bush and VA Secretary James Peake to get to the bottom of another problem revealed in the report: Many veterans with traumatic brain injuries are not getting adequate health care nor job assistance for their long-term recovery.

“The report shows the VA has failed to meet the long-term needs of our veterans returning from the war with traumatic brain injuries,” Udall said. “I’m really disturbed ... traumatic brain injuries are the number-one problem of our veterans returning home and they’re not getting the care they need for their long-term recovery.”

Both of these issues point to a larger concern that the care for the nation’s veterans is not what it should be, Udall told the president. It is clear, he said, that significant steps must be taken, and must be taken now, to fix that situation.

Udall serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and joins other Democrats calling for Katz’s resignation. Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, called for Katz’s dismissal last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.