Late Breaking News
High Court Refuses to Hear Appeal of Class Action Lawsuit Against VA
By Brenda L. Mooney
WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling in a class-action lawsuit that claimed VA does not provide mental healthcare in a timely factor. That ended more than five years of litigation on the issue.
On Jan. 4, the nation’s highest court said it would not review a decision by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that it lacks jurisdiction to overhaul VA’s mental-health system, as requested in the lawsuit. Instead, it said in Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) vs. Eric K. Shinseki, that the responsibility falls to the executive branch and Congress.
Saying the case was “lost on a technicality,” the plaintiffs responded that, “VA remains mired in crisis, and veterans will continue fighting to reform VA so that no veteran waits for VA healthcare or benefits.”
In that statement, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) also said, “We are deeply disappointed the court did not hear the urgent plea of suicidal veterans who face delays of months, and often years, seeking VA assistance. Although significant improvements were made in some areas within VA, such as a suicide hotline set up after our lawsuit that rescued 23,000 distraught veterans, the nation’s second largest department remains in deep crisis due to decades of underfunding and a lack of significant Congressional oversight of VA’s $140 billion per year budget.”
An earlier ruling by a 9th Circuit three-judge panel had given plaintiffs hope, by saying that veterans could look to the courts to seek relief from their claims that VA failed 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, which were addressed by the full circuit court.
"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 healthcare and service-related disability compensation, we cannot exceed our jurisdiction to accomplish it."
To underscore his point, Bybee quoted Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, saying, "Congress and the president are in far better position 'to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.’”
The 9th Circuit court also ruled that, if judicial review of veterans’ benefits is necessary, it should be done by the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
The advocacy groups Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth (VUFT) filed the lawsuit in 2007, claiming that delays in mental healthcare too often result in the suicide of the soldier seeking help, which violated veterans’ rights to due process.
The earlier lower court decision that was overturned, issued by the three-judge panel in 2011, said the courts could impel VA to act because, "neither Congress nor the executive has corrected the behavior that yields these constitutional violations."
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