The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that the delay in providing medical care to veterans violates their constitutional rights to disability benefits.
In a strongly worded statement the judges noted that here are roughly 1,000 attempted suicides every month among veterans enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and about 18 suicides a day among all veterans
On average it takes more than four years for a veteran’s claims to go through. The court noted that these delays cause “unnecessary grief and privation” for veterans and their families.
“The VA’s unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough; no more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations,” wrote Circuit Judge Reinhardt in the opinion.
This ruling overturned a 2008 verdict of U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti. After two weeks Conti ruled that Veterans’ Groups were seeking help from the wrong place.
In the court’s opinion Reinhardt noted that the Administrative Procedure Act precludes veterans from going to the court to try to get their benefits, which means that their Fifth Amendment right to due process was violated.
Reinhardt noted that the three appeals court judges agreed that the judiciary was not the best place to help veterans, but that the legislation and other agencies needed to be prodded to do their jobs:
We willingly acknowledge that, in theory, the political branches of our government are better positioned than are the courts to design the procedures necessary to save veterans’ lives and to fulfill our country’s obligation to care for those who have protected us. But that is only so if those governmental institutions are willing to do their job.
The Appeals court sent the case back to Conti, ordering him to work with veterans groups to create a plan so that suicidal veterans can be seen immediately, veterans can make mental health appointments speedily, and that there is a faster process for veterans to dispute their benefits claims.
Read the decision (PDF).
Read more of the court documents at the plaintiff’s site, Veterans for Common Sense.