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Veterans Lose Health Suit Against VA

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This ruling is disheartening and the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision is simply wrong. At the very least, the Court should have issued a comment to answer to the veterans who are impacted by this decision.

It’s within the mandate of the judicial system to ensure that the executive branch is operating properly and executing its responsibilities. However, we will continue to press our government to do right by our veterans to ensure full care within reasonable timelines so that our veterans can heal the wounds of war in service to the nation.

San Francisco Chronicle – A San Francisco-based legal challenge to the health care system for the nation’s veterans, whose benefits take years to process and whose suicide rate remains high, died in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The justices, without comment, denied review of an appellate court’s ruling in May that said federal judges have no power to order systemwide changes in veterans’ health care.

Advocacy groups for veterans filed the suit in 2007. At a trial in San Francisco in 2008, Department of Veterans Affairs documents showed that the agency took an average of 4.4 years to review veterans’ health care claims and that more than 1,400 veterans who had been denied coverage died in one six-month period while their appeals were pending.

The same records showed that 18 veterans were committing suicide each day, much higher than the rate among the general population.

The suit claimed that the VA had made mental health care virtually unavailable to thousands of discharged soldiers through long waits for referrals and treatment.

A panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that veterans groups could ask a federal judge to order changes in the system, declaring that “the VA’s unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough.”

But the full appeals court then granted the Obama administration’s request for a new hearing before a larger panel, which ordered the suit dismissed in a 10-1 ruling in May.

The court said Congress had created special tribunals in 1988 to review veterans’ benefits, effectively prohibiting constitutional challenges in federal courts.

“As much as we may wish for expeditious improvement in the way the VA handles mental health care and service-related disability compensation,” under federal law “such responsibilities are left to Congress and the executive,” Judge Jay Bybee said in the majority opinion, which became the last word in the case after Monday’s Supreme Court order.

One of the plaintiffs’ organizations, Veterans for Common Sense, said Monday the department has made some improvements, including establishing a suicide-prevention hot line, but “remains in deep crisis due to decades of under-funding and a lack of significant congressional oversight.”

The case is Veterans for Common Sense vs. Shinseki, 12-296.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 2013, by Bob Egelko

For more information regarding the case, visit http://www.justice.gov/osg/briefs/2012/0responses/2012-0296.resp.pdf



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