Supreme Court shuts down veterans’ case for neglect against the VA

By Nora Eisenberg
Monday, January 7, 2013 16:31 EDT
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Veterans groups claim that delays by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in processing combat-related mental health claims has contributed to the 6,500 veteran suicides each year, and filed a federal court case in July 2007 asking the courts to invervene. Friday — after five years of legal battle spearheaded by veterans advocates Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans United for Truth, Inc (VUFT) — the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, let stand a May 2012 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on VA’s behalf.

The 2007 case, Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, sought to hold VA — the second largest federal agency — responsible for the widespread delays and denials in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) associated with service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which has resulted in an astonishing 18 veteran suicides daily. In June 2008, Federal District Court Judge Samuel Conti of San Franscisco ruled that, though the plaintiffs had shown that veterans endure long waits for medical care and thereby suffer higher rates of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, an understaffed VA can not remedy the situation on its own. Instead, he said, it requires an intervention by Congress and even the President.

In May 2011, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Conti’s decision, criticizing VA for the staggering 18 veteran suicides each day. In its 2-1 ruling the Ninth Circuit panel cited the agency’s “unchecked incompetence” in handling post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health claims and ordered immediate changes in practice. But, then, in May 2012, an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit backtracked, ruling in favor of VA.

According to Veterans for Common Sense, timely PTSD care is vital for veterans, up to 30 percent of whom — including 750,000 of the 2.5 million deployed to war in the past 11 year — may suffer from PTSD, according to a recent Stanford University Study. VCS maintains that the federal courts have erred in their decisions on the key issue of the case, which is that the Veterans Judicial Review Act allows challenges in federal court to the VA’s systemic mishandling of mental health care and death and disability compensation, leaving veterans at the mercy of a system their advocates call “Kafkaesque.” In a statement issued today, VCS said that it was “deeply disappointed the Court did not hear the urgent plea of suicidal Veterans who face delays of months, and often years, seeking VA assistance.”

While they wait for court decisions and ones from the VA, the VCS asks that suicidal veterans and veterans who don’t know where to get help for PTSD call VA’s Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK.

["A Woman In The United States Military Crying" on Shutterstock]

Nora Eisenberg
Nora Eisenberg
Nora Eisenberg's articles, interviews, and fiction have appeared in the Village Voice, Tikkun, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, the Guardian UK and Alternet, among others. Her novels include The War at Home, a Washington Post Rave Book of the Year 2002; Just the Way You Want Me, the ForeWord Magazine's Fiction Book of the Year 2004; and When You Come Home (Curbstone, 2009), a Grubb Street Fiction Prize finalist. Eisenberg, who holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, is academic director of the Faculty Publications Program at the City University of New York.
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