Supreme Court Declines To Hear Veterans ‘Free Care’ Case
Without comment, the Supreme Court yesterday declined to a review a November 2002 decision by a federal appeals court ruling that the federal government is not required to provide free, lifetime health care to World War II and Korean War veterans despite promises made by military recruiters, the New York Times reports (Stout, New York Times, 6/2). Last November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the government is not legally obligated to provide free health care to veterans because those promises were not supported by law. Further, the majority of the court said that federal law at most allows veterans space-available treatment at military bases, not free health care for life. The veterans' suit sought to recoup money older veterans spent on health care between 1995, when the Pentagon issued regulations guaranteeing coverage by civilian doctors only for veterans under age 65, and 2001, when legislation was enacted to provide free health care to all elderly veterans with 20 years of service (California Healthline, 2/3). The appeals court said it could do "no more than hope Congress will make good on the promises recruiters made in good faith" to the plaintiffs. "While we are sympathetic to the plaintiffs' position and acknowledge the likelihood that plaintiffs believed these promises and relied on them, the government is not legally bound to abide by them," the appeals court said in its November ruling. George Day, the plaintiffs' attorney, said the Supreme Court had taken "the easy way out" (New York Times, 6/3). Day said he will lobby Congress to pass legislation to pay for the plaintiffs' past medical care. Government attorneys have said that paying past medical expenses for the affected military retirees could cost $15 billion (Murray, Washington Times, 6/3).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.