Obama Administration Challenges Court Ruling on Care for Veterans
The Obama administration recently challenged an appeals court ruling that would allow veterans' groups to go to court to force the Department of Veterans Affairs to speed delivery of care for veterans with mental health issues, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
In May, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 in a lawsuit brought by Veterans United for Truth and Veterans for Common Sense that the VA bureaucracy was slow and provided inadequate care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe mental trauma.
The court cited several VA documents that revealed at the time of trial, 18 veterans were committing suicide daily. Those treated by VA committed suicide at a rate of four to five daily, and the rate of attempted suicide was 1,000 times monthly, according to the report.
Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the majority opinion that Congress and VA "have so completely and chronically failed to respect the people's constitutional rights that the courts must be willing to enforce them." Reinhardt called for U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti to order VA to set priorities for the most seriously ill veterans and follow fixed timetables for benefits.
Obama Administration Challenge
However, Obama administration lawyers argued in their challenge that the court had "wrested control of the VA from the politically accountable branches of government that are best-positioned to identify the needs of veterans and allocate scarce resources."
According to the lawyers, the appellate judges "ignored basic limits on judicial authority" established by a 1988 law that created a "non-adversarial" process to review veterans' benefits claims. Thus, the ruling violated Congress' decision "to prevent the courts from second-guessing the VA's performance of these critical functions."
In response, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that Congress did not intend to deny or withhold veterans' benefits.
Sidney Wolinsky, a lawyer and member of Disability Rights Advocates, criticized the administration's decision to challenge the ruling. He said, "Instead of actually serving veterans, the VA and the Obama administration have callously decided to prolong the proceedings" (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.