National Briefing, California: A New Hearing in V.A. Case
June 7, 2008 – A federal judge presiding over a lawsuit alleging mistreatment of veterans has ordered a hearing regarding new evidence in the case.
The judge, Samuel Conti of Federal District Court in San Francisco, ordered the hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, after the emergence of an internal e-mail message that appears to urge Veterans Affairs clinicians to avoid making a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder to save money.
The message was written by a V.A. psychologist in Texas, but it did not surface until after the trial concluded in April, prompting the plaintiffs to request that the case be reopened. “It’s part of a systemic pattern where there’s a divergence between the pristine world of the V.A.’s central office and what goes on around the country,” said Gordon Erspamer, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
On Wednesday, a lawyer with the Justice Department wrote to Judge Conti contending that the e-mail message in question did not represent V.A.-wide practice or policy. Also on Wednesday, Norma Perez, the psychologist who wrote the message, told members of Congress that it was poorly worded and was meant only to suggest diagnostic options for doctors. The lawsuit was filed last year by veterans’ groups.