February 13, 2008 – Jackson Heights, NY – Lawyers from the Department of Justice have filed papers in a federal court in San Francisco arguing that American veterans have no legal right to specific types of medical care. The government’s defense comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Truth.
The lawsuit accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of illegally denying mental health treatment to troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting that the VA arbitrarily denies care and benefits to wounded veterans, forcing them to wait months for treatment and years for benefits. The plaintiffs cite the VA’s backlog of more than 600,000 disability claims and that 120 veterans a week commit suicide to support their position.
In response, Justice Department lawyers argue that Congress left decisions about who should get medical care, and what typeofcare, to the VA, and not to veterans or the courts. Even though a federal law requires the VA to provide five years of health care for veterans when they leave military service, the government asserts that the law does not create an entitlement to any particular medical service. They say thatthe law entitles veterans only to “medical care which the . . . [VA] determines is needed, and only to the extent funds … are available.”
“The Administration should be ashamed of delaying essential services to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Paul Tobin, President and CEO of United Spinal Association. “A benefit delayed is a benefit denied. In the case of mental health services, it could literally be a matter of life and death to these veterans. That we find veterans in this situation is unconscionable.”
Despite the judge’s recent denial of the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and rejection of the argument that the VA need only provide as much care as the VA’s budget allows, the Justice Department is now arguing that Congress had intended “to authorize, but not require, medical care for veterans.”
“As if the mental and physical wounds of war were not tragic enough, the government’s position in the lawsuit is an insult to the sacrifice of these brave men and women. Support for our troops must not end when they leave the military. Healing wounded veterans is a cost of war. The government cannot shirk from this responsibility, especially when the law requires it,” Tobin said.
A court hearing on the arguments is scheduled for March 7, 2008.