PFC Josh Stein, 22, is a double amputee rehabilitation patient at Brook Army Medical Centre. Brent Stirton/Getty

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.

Appeals Court Rules That Delays in Medical Care Violates Veterans Rights 10 May,2011Lisa Pickoff-White

  • Velandy Manohar, MD- Distinguished Life Fellow Am Psyhciatric Association

    I strongly endorse this courageous verdict which I trust will have a much needed coorective impact on a broken down HC system that is severely damaging our troops. I would like the public to have access to my reports 3 separate reports. I wnat to inform them of tow important suits 1. In New Haven Federal Court- VVA( Viet Nam Veterans of America has filed an FOIA suit on behalf of SGT Chuck Luther who is illegitimately dumped on the side of the road outside Fort Hood on trumped up of diagnosis of Personality Disorder ( Chap 5-13, AR 635-200). Lead Attorney Ms Melissa Ader. 2. In a Fed Court in Va. SWAN ( Service Womens Action Network) has filed Suit of 16 victims of sexual assault and rape( mostly as expected are women and a few men as well) against the DoD Secreatries – Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. R. Gates. Lead Attorney- Former USMC Capt. A. Bhagavati. We need to bring to Justice Major Moran and Senior Officer at the Walter Reed who nurtured, protected and promoted Major Malik Hasan who was inconatct with the Americna born Al Qaeda leader of AQAP( AL Qaeda of Arabian Peninsula for ten months before the murderous rtampage at Fort Hood. The information I have collected includes information from the report Senate Home Land Security Committee on the Fort Hood Massacre. I have detialed reports of the major failures at DOD.

  • Danny Croft

    I have been fighting my appeal for 21 years. It has constantly been remanded for more info. All the info is in the VA files. It baffles me. I even got a call from the Director of Veterans Appeals in 2009. He told me that he did not understand why it is taking so long, and promised to speed it up. So far… has only been remanded for more info again. i even contacted my Senator, but he has done nothing either.


Lisa Pickoff-White

Lisa Pickoff-White is KQED’s data reporter. Lisa specializes in simplifying complex topics and bringing them to life through compelling visuals, including photography and data visualizations. She previously has worked at the Center for Investigative Reporting and other national outlets. Her work has been honored with awards from the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and SXSW Interactive.  Follow: @pickoffwhite Email:

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