Appeals Court Finds Lack of Jurisdiction in Mental Health Lawsuit Against VA

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SAN FRANCISCO — The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it lacks jurisdiction to overhaul VA’s mental health system, as requested in a class action suit claiming that VA does not provide mental health care in a timely manner.

In its latest decision in the case, Veterans for Common Sense vs. Eric K. Shinseki, a 9th circuit majority of 10-1 said the task of addressing problems with VA’s mental healthcare is up to Congress and the administrative branch of government.

A ruling last summer by a three-judge panel of the court said veterans could look to the courts to seek relief from their claims about VA’s failure to provide adequate or timely care to veterans in need. That raised questions about the appropriate role of the three branches of the U.S. government,.

“VCS’s complaint sounds a plaintive cry for help, but it has been misdirected to us,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the 10-member majority. “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.”

The advocacy groups Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Veterans United for Truth (VUFT) filed the lawsuit in 2007, claiming that delays in mental health care too often result in the suicide of the soldier seeking help, which violated veterans’ rights to due process.

According to the lawsuit, up to 18 veterans commit suicide every day, many while waiting for a mental-health care referral that can take months. Some 1,467 veterans died while their appeals were pending in just six months from October 2007 to April 2008, court documents claimed.

“The message that this decision sends to the VA is that it can continue its unconstitutional practices unchecked by the power of the courts.,” Sandy Cook, VUFT’s vice-chair said in a statement. “It would not be an exaggeration to call it a carte blanche approval for the VA to continue to mishandle, mistreat, and stiff our veterans.”

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