Thursday, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) chaired a hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, at which he told the story of 30-year-old Thomas Young, an Illinois veteran who struggled with alcohol addiction and PTSD after serving in Iraq.
Sometime between July 22 and 23, 2015, Young called the VA's suicide hotline in desperate need of help, but he didn't get an answer. After leaving a message, Young went to the local Metra tracks, lay down, and was killed by an oncoming train. It wasn't until the next day that the hotline returned Young's call.
During an interview with an ABC Chicago affiliate, Young's brother Will said that Thomas tried to get help at the VA, but it was useless:
“The first two times he was turned away, told he didn't qualify for treatment because he wasn't suicidal. The third time he was suicidal and he was put on a waiting list.”
According to The Daily Caller, Young had tried to kill himself before.
The Independent Journal spoke with Will Young about his brother's suicide, and he had some stirring words for the VA:
"These people that the VA is working with aren't disposable parts, they're people's family members, they're real people with real issues. My concern—my reason for doing this was not to get my brother's name in the paper, was not to have people call me and give me their condolences, it's to promote change so it doesn't happen again.
I would like the VA to learn from my brother's story. If you serve in a combat zone, there should be zero red tape if you need help. Zero."
The corruption and incompetence at the VA runs deep.
In 2008, CBS reported on leaked emails written by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's head of mental health at the time, that painted a damning picture of an agency deliberately covering up the volume of veteran suicides in the United States.
One email read:
“Shh! Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”
After the email release, NBC reports that Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Patty Murray (D-WA) called for Katz's resignation. Yet, six years later, Katz was not only still employed by the VA, but he was made Acting Director of Mental Health Operations.
After Senator Kirk questioned Dr. David Shulkin, the VA Under Secretary for Health, Thursday, he confirmed Katz is still with the VA.
As if the situation couldn't get any worse, The Daily Caller adds:
“The government-run healthcare provider had been alerted to problems with its suicide hotline four months prior to Young’s death, but didn’t fix the issues.”
In February 2015, the VA claimed changes were being made. However, during Thursday's hearing, Senator Kirk asked VA undersecretary, Dr. David Shulkin, why, if changes were being made, Young was left alone with no one to answer his desperate call. Shulkin deferred blame to a contractor, and called the incident “totally unacceptable.”
After hearing endless stories regarding the failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs over the last several years, it can become easy for many Americans to simply stop listening, but Young's tragic story, as well as his brother's powerful indictment, will hopefully serve to remind Americans that this issue is far from resolved.