In an exercise of callous gutter humor, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official Robin Paul, manager of the Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic at the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis emailed a picture of an elf committing suicide to her employees at the center.
The cartoon that was e-mailed to center personnel leading up to Christmas last December drew outrage from Veterans’ groups who are working to reduce the epidemic of suicide by returning veterans from Iran and Iraq who are having difficulty readjusting to civilian life – many after multiple deployments to conflict zones over the past decade.
Many returning veterans are coming home to broken families, chronic unemployment, depression and anxiety leading to self-medication through drugs or alcohol and homelessness without the benefit of psychological counseling, cognitive therapy and psychiatric care – help that often comes with a stigma of weakness by soldiers who have faced the horrors of war.
The problem of veteran suicide is a top priority at the VA and veteran groups wonder why it took more than two months for VA administrators to discipline Paul for sending it. In addition to an image of an elf committing suicide, the illustration showed an elf begging for much-need pain medication at a VA clinic.
Officials at Roudebush did not take action until The Indianapolis Star contacted the center earlier this month. Center spokeswoman Julie Webb said:
“The email is totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to veterans,”…“We apologize to our veterans and take suicide and mental health treatment seriously, striving to provide the highest quality.”
Ken Hylton, Commander of the Indiana Department of the American Legion told The Indianapolis Star that the cartoon was:
“It is a slap in the face to our recent and past veterans suffering from mental health issues every single day,”…“These men and women went to war and do not deserve this type of ridicule. This is a disgusting display of mockery. This is supposedly someone who is caring for our veterans, and we in the Indiana American Legion are disgusted.”
Legislation to deal with the problem of veteran suicide received rare bipartisan support this past February with the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which aims to bring down the suicide rate of 22 veteran suicides per day. Jonah Bennett writing for the Daily Caller News Foundation reported that:
“The law is named after Clay Hunt, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who committed suicide back in 2011 after battling with the Department of Veterans Affairs for proper PTSD treatment.”
“A full 18 months after his death, the VA finally decided to boost Hunt’s PTSD disability rating to 100 percent after appeals. Current figures place veterans at 1 out of every 5 suicides in the nation. Annual, third-party reviews of military mental health facilities will now be required at the VA.”