Newspaper Editorial: Overdue Aid for Veterans

Editorial Cites VCS / VUFT Appeal Court Opinion   May 25, 2011, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (The Intelligencer Journal Editorial Board) – Eighteen veterans commit suicide every day. More than 1000 attempt suicide every month.Many of these veterans have pleaded for help from the Department of Veterans Affairs only to have their requests delayed or denied.   On May 10 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered a complete overhaul of mental health care for veterans due to what it called “unchecked incompetence” on the part of the VA.The court ruled 2–1 that delaying combat–related mental injuries violated soldiers’ constitutional rights.   The case began in 2007 when two veterans advocacy groups — Veterans United for Truth in California and Veterans for Common Sense in Washington D.C. — filed suit against the VA because of weeks–long delays experienced by veterans who sought mental health services.   Although the VA established a five–year plan designed to improve mental health services for veterans the judges found that the screening for suicidal patients was ineffective and that suicide–prevention was virtually non–existent.   “Although the VA is obligated to provide veterans mental health services many veterans with severe depression or post–traumatic stress disorder are forced to wait weeks for mental health referrals and are given no opportunity to request or demonstrate their need for expedited care,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.   “For those who commit suicide in the interim care does not come soon enough.”   The judicial order notes that all those seeking mental health services must be seen in a timely manner and that those at “imminent risk” receive immediate care.   The judges noted that the need for such services is growing in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The court noted that more than 84000 veterans currently are on waiting lists for mental health services.   Statistically one in every three service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan will seek mental health services within a year of returning from their deployment.   The decision overturns a lower court ruling in which the two advocacy groups sought to force changes in the way veterans seeking mental health services are treated.The federal government which was weighing an appeal should drop it.   These veterans served their country. It’s now time for the government to honor its obligation to serve them.

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