Dec. 14: Federal Judge Holds Hearing on VCS v. VA Lawsuit

KGO - TV (ABC News, San Francisco)

Veterans’ Lawsuit Moves Forward

December 14, 2007, San Francisco, California – A legal battle affecting some 600,000 veterans, many with post traumatic stress disorder came to a San Francisco courtroom today. The federal government is trying to dismiss a lawsuit filed over a tremendous backlog for treatment.  View the TV news broadcast.

The lawsuit filed by veterans groups [Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth] in July asks the federal court to intervene to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to change its procedures so it can handle disability claims in a fair and timely manner.

Today, a judge heard arguments on the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the federal courts have no jurisdiction in this case — that only Congress does.

Attorneys for the veterans groups say there’s a 600,000 case backlog of disability claims from those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam.

“The whole system is completely broken down. There just is no justice for our veterans,” said Veterans with Disabilities attorney Gordon Erspamer [from the law firm of Morrison & Foerster].

The lawsuit claims that aside from the huge backlog, the delays are caused by restrictions on veterans’ due process rights and an unfair appeals process.

They want people to give up. That’s what they want to do because its so difficult, it takes so much time and its so frustrating.

Guido Gualco is a marine who served in the first Gulf War. He’s been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

His disability claim is still pending after he filed it two years ago. Gualco ended up in a psychiatric ward because of his anxieties.

“You hear about suicide? I was contemplating suicide. That’s how bad I got,” said Gualco.

Attorney Sid Wolinski says time is of the essence.

“The suicide rate for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is four times what it is for the general population. We have as many people dying from suicide as veterans as are killed in combat,” said disability rights attorney Sid Wolinski [from the non-profit organization, Disability Rights Advocates].

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of veterans suffering from combat stress disorders like PTSD.

“With all the experience I’ve had with the VA so far, it doesn’t surprise me,” said Army veteran Sergeant Binkley on November 23, 2007.

Sergeant Binkley is a decorated former Army ranger captain who was diagnosed with PTSD.

He is now facing trial for robbing two Walgreen’s pharmacies of pain medication.

He says he became addicted after military doctors prescribed heavy doses of pain killers for a hip injury.

Binkley says he tried to get help from the VA, but his attempts were stymied by two years of paperwork problems between the military and the VA.

During this jailhouse interview last month with ABC7 News, Binkley said he hoped the lawsuit would make a difference.

There are many people trying to get help and there’s roadblocks put in front of people, especially myself.

Judge Samuel Conti said he’ll rule later, probably next month, whether to dismiss the case or allow it to go to trial.

Attorneys for the VA refused to comment outside the courtroom. But in July when the suit was filed, the VA told ABC7 in a written statement that “veterans have access to widely recognized quality health care, and the VA gives priority handling to their monetary disability claims.”

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