March 5, 2008, San Francisco, California – The class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans United for Truth (VUFT) against the Department of Veterans Affairs forced VA to confirm two important facts: the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran patients continues rising quickly, and the new law mandating five years of free healthcare is an entitlement.
In the first major revelation, VA’s Dr. Gerald Cross testified that 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans were already treated at VA hospitals after returning home from combat. Of those, VA reported more than 120,000 were diagnosed with mental health condition, including nearly 68,000 diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
VA also reversed their prior position, and now says the five years of free medical care Congress mandated in the “Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act,” is, in fact, an entitlement. In court papers filed in January 2008, VA said the five years of free medical care was discretionary, which means spending for new war veterans would be limited to available funds at the option of VA’s secretary.
Arturo Gonzalez, an attorney with Morrison & Foerster, the law firm representing VCS and VUFT, asked VA’s Dr. Cross, “… if a veteran from Iraq returns tomorrow and needs medical care from tomorrow to the next five years, that person would be entitled to care from VA, correct?”
And Dr. Cross replied, “Yes.” He clarified his comments by adding, “…anything that’s remotely related to their combat service is not only free, there is no copay.”
VCS encourages veterans with war-related medical conditions, especially mental health conditions or suicide, to seek treatment at VA. One set of goals VCS is for veterans to know about VA, to want to go to VA for care, and for VA to be fully prepared with prompt and high-quality treatment.
VCS will be supplying this information to reporters and legislators so they know what VA has said under oath.
One of our goals in the current hearing in Federal District Court in San Francisco is to prevent VA from turning away suicidal veterans seeking treatment at VA. Of the 1.7 million service members deployed to the war zones, 800,000 are veterans, and 900,000 remain in the military. Of those still in the military, approximately 300,000 are deployed to the combat zones. Action by the court now could improve services for both our veterans and our soon-to-be veterans.
As of this morning, the court hearing appears to be heading for two or three days of additional testimony.