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Veteran suicide numbers rise at Phoenix VA Medical Center

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — In the past fiscal year, the Phoenix VA Medical Center has recorded 55 veteran suicides. That number is up from 28 vets who took their lives during the fiscal year 2015.

Whistleblower Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, chief of specialty care clinics at the Phoenix VA, said right now, the hospital does not have enough staff to help veterans.

“We see about 13,000 patients a month [and] we’re short 50 percent of the nurses in there,” Rodriguez said. “We’re short 50 percent of the doctors there.”

Rodriguez said the VA does not fund or hire personnel to fill those slots.

“Vets cannot get the consistent care that they need,” Rodriguez said. “They fall through the cracks and the numbers clearly demonstrate that.”

Paul Coupaud, public affairs officer for the Phoenix VA, said of those 55 veterans who took their lives in the fiscal year 2016, 37 had not received mental health care from the Phoenix VA in the past two years. 18 of those veterans did receive mental health care during that time.

“Any suicide, in general, is a tragedy, and that’s not what we want to see,” Coupaud said.

He said they do have measures in place at the Phoenix VA to try and prevent those tragedies. Coupaud said each time a veteran comes in for an appointment, they undergo a suicide screening. They also have 24-hour social workers and psychiatrists on call.

“If any veteran does say that they’re having troubles and they’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, we’ve got people who can treat them right there, anytime,” Coupaud said.

Rodriguez said veterans are still waiting for care and some appointments have been deleted in recent years. Coupaud said wait times have been coming down and the VA is looking at replacing its current appointment scheduling system.

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