Friday, May 2, 2008

Closing Arguments in Suit on Veterans’ Mental Care

Last summer Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, Inc., sued the Department of Veterans Affairs for declaratory and injunctive relief. Now the case has been tried by Judge Samuel Conti (N.D. Cal.), who is expected to rule in the next month or two. Closing Arguments in Suit on Veterans’ Mental Care, N.Y. Times, May 1, 2008.

The suit was brought under the United States Constitution (alleging that the claims process denies veterans due process, that veterans have been denied access to the courts and an opportunity to petition the government for grievances), the Medical Care Act (alleging the VA has a mandatory obligation to provide medical care to returning veterans and that it has failed in this obligation), and the Rehabilitation Act (alleging denial of services to people with handicaps). Complaint at 64-68.

The 73-page complaint provides an eloquent overview of the VA mess:

1. This lawsuit stems fromthe shameful failures of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") and other governmental institutions to meet our nation's legal and moral obligations to honor and care for our wounded veterans who have served our country. Because of those failures, hundreds of thousands of men and women who have suffered grievous injuries fighting in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being abandoned. Unless systemic and drastic measures are instituted immediately, the costs to these veterans, their families, and our nation will be incalculable, including broken families, a new generation of unemployed and homeless veterans, increases in drug abuse and alcoholism, and crushing burdens on the health care delivery system and otehr social services in our communities.

2. The system for deciding VA claims has largely collapsed. The VA claims adjudication system is currently mired in processing a backlog of over 600,000 claims, many of which have been pending for years. The time period for a claim to be fully decided can exceed ten (10) years. By comparison, the private sector health care industry processes thirty (30) billion claims annually in an average of 89.5 days per claim, including the time required to resolve disputed claims. The VA's process for pursuing a claim is not merely arbitrary and ineffective. The delays have become an insurmountable barrier preventing many veterans from obtaining health care and benefits. Many wounded veterans, particularly those with combat-caused mental illness, give up in frustration and despair or die while their claims are pending. In these cases, justice delayed is justice denied.
Complaint at 3.

The legal claims (summarized above) are discussed at ¶ ¶ 258-78. Complaint at 64-68.

I don't think I've mentioned here that Justia makes available the dockets and electronic documents from many federal cases available free (Justia Federal Civil Court Filings). This is an example of how cool this resource is. In addition to the complaint, you can see the whole docket for this case and read the government's motion to dismiss, the order granting in part and denying in part the motion to dismiss (the judge dismissed the Rehabilitation Act claim), the government's trial brief, and plaintiffs' trial brief.

Thanks: Michele Storms.

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