Tags: VA | veterans | mental | health

Court: Congress, Not Courts, Must Fix VA Programs

Tuesday, 08 May 2012 10:43 AM

By Robert Engler

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A federal appeals court has overturned a previous decision ordering the Department of Veteran Affairs to fix the “unchecked incompetence” in its mental health programs for returning war veterans.

Veterans who filed the lawsuit in 2007, which charged that the VA’s failure to provide timely treatment could be responsible for suicides, said they might appeal Monday’s decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The appeals court ruling sympathized with the veterans, but said Congress, not the courts, is responsible for resolving issues with VA mental health programs.

Writing for the majority in the case, Judge Jay Bybee said the lawsuit from veterans “sounds like a plaintive cry for help, but it has been misdirected to us.”

“As much as we may wish for expeditious improvement in the way the VA handles mental health care and service-related disability compensation, we cannot exceed our jurisdiction to accomplish it,” Bybee added.

Attorney Gordon Erspamer, who represents the veterans, said the decision gives the VA “carte blanche to do anything it wants to veterans.”

“These groups have been going to Congress with these problems for years,” Erspamer said. “This opinion basically closes the door to federal [court] to any claims by veterans.”

The first ruling in the case came in 2008 when a federal district judge in San Francisco held the courts do not have the power to intervene on behalf of the veterans. That decision was then overturned on appeal last year by a three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the courts could in fact order the VA to fix its troubled mental health programs.

“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,” the panel ruled in a split opinion.

Monday’s 10-1 decision from the full appeals court, which overturned its own three-judge panel, came on an appeal from the Obama administration asking the court to reconsider the panel’s ruling.


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