Media Advisory: Judges to Decide if Supreme Court Hears Landmark Lawsuit

Contact: Veterans for Common Sense (202) 491-6953

Date: January 3, 2013

In the next few days, the Supreme Court will determine if it will hear arguments in the case, Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki.  An announcement could come as early as this Friday.

In one of the most important landmark legal cases involving veterans’ access to healthcare and disability benefits in decades, two veterans groups filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on September 5, 2012, asking the Court to hear the case.  According to the Supreme Court’s web site, our case was distributed for conference of January 4, 2013.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2007 by VCS and Veterans United for Truth (VUFT), centers on one key issue: whether the Veterans Judicial Review Act allows veterans to challenge in federal court the systemic delays in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) provision of mental health care and death and disability compensation.

Learn more about our VCS / VUFT lawsuit at our web site.  The New York Times published several news articles about the veteran suicide crisis as well as the enormous disability claim backlog now at more than 1.1 million claims.  and the paper also published an editorial supporting the plight of our veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   Veterans for Common Sense also appeared on “60 Minutes” three years ago discussing the long waits veterans face when seeking VA assistance.

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit formed in the District of Columbia in August 2002, VCS leads the way on many key VA reforms.  One major example is VA’s new streamlined disability benefits for PTSD based on scientific research announced in July 2010.

VCS is supported by foundation grants and donations from the public

About Charles Sheehan-Miles

Charles Sheehan-Miles served in the 1991 Gulf War as a tank crewman with the 24th Infantry Division. A bestselling novelist, he co-founded Veterans for Common Sense in 2002 and served as the organization’s executive director from 2003-2006. Charles currently lives in Bethesda, MD, where he is employed with a law firm assisting disabled veterans with their VA claims.
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6 Responses to Media Advisory: Judges to Decide if Supreme Court Hears Landmark Lawsuit

  1. Jerry Wesch says:

    The VA backlog is a major problem for the soldiers getting out of the military via disability / Medical separation. They are too often told that if there are any problems with their disability rating or problem list, they can take it up with the VA after they are out. Any sense of betrayal of trust just aggravates trauma issues and many soldiers are being treated right up discharge and need VA follow-up immediately.

  2. Tyler says:

    There were many problems I was being treated for in the military that only worsened when i was discharged because for a three year period I was systemically and repeatedly denied care until all of the conditions permanently worsened.

    The VA promotes a culture of not believing a veteran or any of their health concerns, and the VA’s lovely interconnected network of horrible, foreign doctors. So much to love!

  3. Dr. George D. Patrin says:

    Much appreciation to the leaders in Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans United for Truth (VUFT) for taking on this challenge, better support for Vets and their Families, especially in terms of mental health screening, evaluation in response to those screens, and then continuous quality care until adequate health and stability are demonstrated. It is important to note that Sec Shinsecki has been forthright in his evaluation of the VA he inherited. The VA has been “underfund(ed) with a lack of significant Congressional oversight of VA budget,” but he’s open and willing to make it right. He has told his team (and Congress) that warm handoffs have been poor to nonexistent and continuous care between active service and the VA less than adequate with many gaps. Perhaps it’s this realization that keeps the court system from holding leaders in Congress and the DoD accountable for the huge gaps that continue to exist, from also coming forward and “calling it what it is.” That said, we are ALL still missing the point and the boat. We cannot fix the mess with what got us there in the first place, it will stay the same, and the suicides and homeless rates will continue. Specifically:

    1. The last line in this article is concerning: “Suicidal Veterans and Veterans who don’t know where to get help for PTSD can call VA’s Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK.” Sad to say, our “TALK” number is continuing old precepts of crisis intervention that protects the administration more than listens to the individual calling. This is the same “suicide hotline set up after our lawsuit that rescued 23,000 distraught Veterans,” that also called the police to knock on doors and put Vets in jail, Vets who won’t make ‘the mistake’ in calling the ‘help line’ again. This has happened all too often, along with “death by cop,” when the caller admits they have a weapon and are ready to use it. Other, smaller, crisis lines, who do not take Federal funding, like 1-877-VET2VET, do not operate this way and so have much better results. Let’s get this issue addressed and all parties working together to improve the outcomes now.

    2. The real culprit behind the “delayed and denied medical care and benefits” is the dismal referral process between the DoD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Healthcare Plans (Primary Care) the Veteran may be under. Each of these entities operate in silos and make the decompensating Veteran manage their program or care, while suffering from PTSD. It is past time to recognize this and find each leg of the stool responsible for releasing the Veteran to the other provider, hanging on and guiding them until a person-to-person hand off is accomplished. This is now being done in many “Primary Care Medical Home” clinics. Kudos to Sec Shinsecki for making this happen in the VA, and to the DoD for making it a Tri-Service initiative. Still, most Vets fall between a huge crack in the ‘hand-off’ and never make it to one of these sites. This is the type of care that should be provided via the “new 2008 law providing up to five years of free VA care after deployment to a war zone” (for both the Vet and their family members?). Congress, and the Judge in this case, need to acknowledge this clear oversight and mandate it happen. We can do this, we must do this, and do it now.

    3. There should be no “denials for specific conditions,” at all, until the screening, evaluation, and treatment and comprehensive care plan are accomplished, in place, and understood by all responsible parties. Again, the Vet with depression, PTSD, and TBI should not be made responsible for following through, being able to navigate the massive complicated process in place today to get the care they need in a timely manner. Note the PTSD and TBI casualties we are dealing with do not start with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they go back to all prior engagements, in particular Vietnam. Yes, this is a massive unmet need. One of the ways to re-program this process is to put the active duty to civilian life claim process back into the primary care office rather than a ‘specialty clinic’ whose mandate is to crank them through. This is reinventing the wheel and redundant. The primary care provider should know their patient and are therefore be able to work the referrals needed to make a disability decision in a more timely manner, with collaboration between the DoD and VA Primary Care Teams. The piece-meal Specialty referral process now followed is business and Provider-centric rather than patient-centered. This is the main reason behind the “wait four or more years for an appealed claim decision.” Deal with it at the initiation of the process, efficiently. Put more support in the Primary Care Clinics and make this one of the check points for the warm hand-off from one care giver and plan to the other. This would reduce errors to nearly zero because the Primary Care Provider, the one who really knows the Veteran head to toe, to include their Family and Occupational Histories, is responsible for the evaluation. Take the resources being poured into the dissociated Medical and Physical Disability Boards and put them back into supporting Primary Care processes.

    4. I’m concerned the reason the Court can not seem to “hear the urgent plea of suicidal Veterans who face delays” is because the Court, like Congress, live in the world of the “haves” in this country, and cannot seem to put themselves in the shoes of the “have nots.” This is especially evident to the families who are struggling to help their Veteran Loved One to get help, or even worse, have lost them to suicide already.

    5. How do we get the Judge, Congress, and the rest of Society, to really look in the mirror, and declare “There but for the Grace of G_d go I. I’m going to personally do something to right this wrong within my circle of influence.” I look forward to assisting in righting the wrongs that continue every day, and help responsible parties become accountable today, offering my services in this light, whether it be with Congress, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Congressional Leaders, DoD Command, the Suicide Prevention Program Leaders, or VCS/ VUFT to make sure the VA and DOD have the “funding, staffing, laws, regulations, training, and oversight urgently needed so no more Veterans die while waiting.” Thank you, again, for your efforts now, and in the past.

    COL-Ret George Patrin, MD

  4. Ken Binkley says:

    Sad to say this is nothing new. The VA has been doing this at least since Vietnam. Keeping up the fight is the best reason to keep living with the daily pain and disability. A dead vet is a closed VA Claim.

  5. Linda Ebbert says:

    My husband died waiting on the VA ..He had massive cancers that the VA WOULD NOT TEST FOR. He lasted almost a year and was not counted as100% until after his death. His death was slow..painful and got no sort of assistance from VA. I had to do all with a broken hip.. I try to assist vets so they and their family do not have to go through this. It is a discredit to our heros! At the end..when cancer reached brain..he was back in Nam..fighting..then the fog would lift and he cried as he thought his country abandoned him. His last conscience was crying they did not care.

  6. J Ward says:

    I’m very disappointed to hear this, but not surprised. Veterans being thrown away like a piece of trash. Just another sign that vets don’t matter, I figured out after I left active duty that veterans are treated like they are no longer useful just a burden to the government.
    I know from experience that once you fall through the cracks it’s next to impossible to make it out and sadly this trend will continue. I agree with another comment a dead vet is a closed claim. As I continue to struggle with this horrible system with doctors that obviously don’t care.