Federal Court in San Francisco Permits Suit Faulting VA Health Care
A federal judge in San Francisco on Thursday ruled that two veterans' advocacy groups can proceed with a class-action lawsuit claiming that the Department of Veterans Affairs violated federal laws and veterans' civil rights by delaying and denying benefits, the Contra Costa Times reports (Richman, Contra Costa Times, 1/11).
U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti also ruled that veterans are legally entitled to two years of health care after leaving the service, despite government arguments that VA is required to provide only as much care as its budget allows in a given year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/11).
Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth in July 2007 filed the suit against the VA alleging that VA is responsible for a "systemwide pattern of abusive and illegal administrative practices."
The lawsuit claims VA failed to deliver the mandatory two years of disability benefits for veterans, failed to address staff problems that led to long wait times for care and provided insufficient care for post-traumatic stress disorder. The lawsuit also claims VA deliberately reclassified PTSD claims as pre-existing disorders as a way to avoid paying out benefits (California Healthline, 7/24/07).
Conti said that if the plaintiffs can prove their allegations, it would show that "thousands of veterans, if not more, are suffering grievous injuries as the result of their inability to procure desperately needed and obviously deserved health care." He added that federal courts are competent to decide whether veterans' injuries were caused by flaws in the system or in the VA's grievance procedures.
Conti said, "It is within the court's power to insist that veterans be granted a level of due process that is commensurate with the adjudication procedures with which they are confronted."
The next hearing in the case, scheduled for Feb. 22, will address plaintiffs' request for an injunction that would require VA to provide immediate mental health treatment for veterans who experience stress disorders and are at risk of suicide, according to Sidney Wolinsky, a lawyer for Disability Rights Advocates (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/11).