A San Francisco appeals court ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to dramatically revamp its mental health care system, noting that an average of 18 veteran service members commit suicide each day, and 6,500 end their own lives each year.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 3 judge panel said on Tuesday that it takes an average of 4 years for the VA to fully provide mental health benefits that are owed to veterans and that it can take weeks for a suicidal vet to get even a first appointment with the department. In its 2-1 ruling, the Court said the VA’s “unchecked incompetence” is a violation of veterans’ constitutional rights.
Writing for the Court, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said “No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations. Having chosen to honor and provide for our veterans by guaranteeing them the mental health care and other critical benefits to which they are entitled, the government may not deprive them of that support through unchallengeable and interminable delays.” Joined by Senior Judge Proctor Hug Jr., Reinhardt also said “There comes a time when the political branches have so completely and chronically failed to respect the People’s constitutional rights that the courts must be willing to enforce them. We have reached that unfortunate point with respect to veterans who are suffering from the hidden, or not hidden wounds of war.”
The court’s ruling also cited a 2007 report by the office of the Inspector General that said that there were no suicide prevention officers at any of the 800 community based VA outpatient clinics.
The Associated Press reports that a 2008 Rand Institute study found that 18.5 percent of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and 300,000 soldiers that are currently deployed either suffer from PTSD or major depression.
Josh Taylor, the VA spokesman, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.