Veterans’ Groups File Appeal in S.F. Suit on Mental Health Care
Two veterans groups on Monday filed a notice with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to overturn the decision of a lower court judge that dismissed a class action suit seeking to force changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system, the Washington Times reports (Hudson, Washington Times, 7/29).
U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti in June dismissed the lawsuit, filed by the Veterans for Common Sense and the Veterans United for Truth.
Lawyers for the two veterans groups said that staff shortages, long waits, inadequate care and an adversarial appeals process for denied care have created an "epidemic of suicides" among veterans. The lawsuit also said that VA was ignoring or delaying treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder for as many as 750,000 veterans.
The lawsuit did not seek damages but instead sought for the court to force VA to improve care for veterans, especially those with PTSD and other mental health issues.
In his ruling, Conti agreed with the veterans groups' claims that there was a high veteran suicide and PTSD rate; that the VA was understaffed; and that there were long waiting periods for hearing veterans' appeals of benefit denials.
In addition, Conti found that members of the two groups "have faced significant delays in receiving disability benefits and medical care from the VA," often with "dire consequences."
However, he noted that a majority of veterans have been seen within 30 days. He added that although the delays were "significant," they did not violate a veteran's right to due process because there was no consensus on how "timely" processing would be defined (California Healthline, 6/26).
A statement from the veterans groups said that a "flood of veterans with mental health problems will continue to increase" as soldiers continue to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan for multiple tours of duty (Washington Times, 7/29).