July 1, 2008 – Recently Federal District Judge Samuel Conti decided in the class action lawsuit in which we (Veterans United For Truth and Veterans for Common Sense) were plaintiffs, that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was failing in many cases in providing mental health services to returning veterans. Unfortunately he also decided that he did not have jurisdiction at his level to compel changes in the VA’s procedures.
While we are disappointed with Judge Conti’s decision that he lacked jurisdiction, and do not agree that we did not prove the “systemic” nature of these problems, this outcome is far from being all bad. We knew that it was a crap shoot going in, but we were sure that he had the necessary jurisdiction. We also knew that no matter how he decided, the case would most likely end up before the Supreme Court. Of course we had hoped to be defending Judge Conti’s decision against an appeal by the DVA; now we will be appealing his decision in the Ninth Circuit.
When we started out, we knew that we were in it for the long haul. We won round one, just by getting the case heard in federal court, since the DVA and the Department of Justice both attempted multiple times to have us disqualified as plaintiffs, and denied that the federal court had any right even to examine DVA procedures and policies..
We lost part of round two. It may be a setback, but it succeeded in large part since Judge Conti’s ruling expressed agreement with much of our complaint. Additionally The DVA has been exposed not only to the Congress, but also to the national and international media, who have stepped up their reporting on the shoddy treatment that the VA has been providing to returning veterans, and to the repeated delay and denial of service by the DVA..
America’s veterans will be forever in the debt of Morrison & Foerster and Disability Rights Advocates, the two law firms that took on the DVA pro bono.