July 28, VCS and VUFT File Appeal in Lawsuit Against VA, Citing Serious Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Army Times

Veterans appeal ruling in lawsuit against VA

Monday Jul 28, 2008 – As promised, the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense has filed an appeal in a case in which it accuses the Veterans Affairs Department of putting veterans at risk for suicide and mental health issues through shortfalls in care.

In June, Judge Samuel Conti of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that the case was out of his jurisdiction because Veterans for Common Sense could not prove that the problems cited — delays in benefits, lost records, long waits for doctors’ appointments, not enough oversight and veterans turned away from hospitals with suicidal thoughts — applied to every veteran, and were therefore not systemic.

However, Conti said in his ruling that those problems need to be tended to, and that individual veterans could sue VA. He said the power to change the system ultimately rests with Congress and VA.

But Veterans for Common Sense, in conjunction with Veterans United for Truth, appealed because they believe the courts do have jurisdiction and can force change. They have requested an expedited hearing, citing new statistics that show a veterans’ suicide hotline receives 250 calls a day from people in distress.

The case brought to light several problems within the system, including an e-mail from a woman who oversees mental health workers at a Temple, Texas, VA facility in which she said her center did not have the resources necessary to diagnose veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and advised them instead to diagnose “adjustment disorder” — a short-term diagnosis no longer applicable to veterans who have had symptoms for more than six months.

The case also disclosed an e-mail that showed more than 1,000 veterans in VA’s care attempt suicide every month.

“For these reasons, plaintiffs believe they should continue to fight, that their cause is valid, and that Judge Conti was incorrect in holding that the courts are without power to grant veterans a remedy,” attorneys for Veterans for Common Sense said in a statement.

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