Johnny Isakson backs Atlanta VA director in wake of a veteran's apparent murder-suicide

WASHINGTON -- Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, backed the Atlanta VA's leadership in the case of a Cobb County veteran accused of killing her three children and herself.

Internal VA documents labeled Kisha Holmes a "high risk for suicide" and she had missed mental health appointments in December. She and her children, aged 10, 4 and 9 months, were found inside their Austell apartment last week.

Isakson said at a news conference Tuesday that he was privy to details of the internal investigation that he could not share, and the medical center's director, Leslie Wiggins, called him "immediately" after the incident. Isakson's assessment:

"I can't discuss everything I know, but I think as the story unfolds, people will understand the VA does an excellent job and we recognize one of the big differences with soft tissue issues – which is PTSD and TBI – you have to have a continuum of care and contact, where people can fall through the cracks.

"The Atlanta VA has done a wonderful job of seeing to it that the veteran has the close touch and the close contact with the VA mental health supervisors there in charge of it, and I’m sure when all the facts come out, we’ll understand this tragedy was something, hopefully, that could have been prevented, but we’ll do a better job of seeing to it that it doesn't happen again."

Asked about his confidence in Wiggins, Isakson added:

"I absolutely have faith in her. Anytime somebody tells you they’ll call you if anything comes up -- good or bad -- and they call you when it comes up, even when it’s the worst it could be, you know you’ve got somebody who’s good to their word. The veterans of Georgia are lucky to have her at the head of that hospital."

VA Secretary Robert McDonald stayed away from specifics on the Atlanta case when asked about it:

"We’re doing the investigation to understand that. Mental health is a very difficult area. We spent quite a bit of time on it this morning. We are hiring mental health professionals. We are trying to reduce wait times. We’re trying to make sure the people who are flagged are contacted frequently, but we need to do the investigation in this case to get into what actually happened. Please understand it is a priority for us."

McDonald had breakfast with the leaders of the House and Senate VA committees Tuesday and hosted a town hall with VA employees from across the country to discuss a range of issues with the agency.

Shortly after the visit, the Senate passed a bill to combat veterans' suicides, 99-0. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was Isakson's first bill as VA chairman. It now heads to the president's desk.

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