By Peter S. Gaytan
In a powerful rebuke to the VA mental health care system, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th circuit, agreed with the argument put forward by the plaintiffs, Veterans United for Truth in Santa Barbara and Veterans for Common Sense in Washington, DC, that veterans were being denied their right to care because of huge wait times. The Court ordered VA to develop a new mental-health care plan, finding its current system seriously flawed.
I’m troubled by the tone of the Court’s decision. While I have dedicated my life to making sure that all veterans get the care that they need and have earned through their service, I also believe that the 9th Circuit Court seems to have gone out of its way to portray VA as an incompetent organization, and that’s simply not the case. There are many problems that need to be fixed, but in general, our country’s largest health-care system is doing a commendable job.
VA’s mental-health budget has risen to more than $5.2 billion, and for fiscal year 2012, President Obama is requesting $6.2 billion. VA has a suicide prevention coordinator or team at each of its 153 medical centers. VA has hired an additional 3,500 mental-health professionals and evaluates 95 percent of its veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental-health issues within 14 days. The new paperless process for disability claims, which should become operational in 2012, should reduce even further VA’s claims backlog.
I don’t want to minimize any complaints or concerns about the care our veterans receive. Do veterans sometimes experience unreasonable delays before they receive proper treatment. Yes, and that’s not acceptable. But I also think that the Court’s decision in condemning the entire department was too harsh and unfair.
To read the complete court decision, go to:
Peter S. Gaytan is the author of For Service To Your Country – Updated Edition: The Essential Guide to Getting the Veterans’ Benefits You’ve Earned (Citadel, 2011), available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. He has served as an advocate in securing and protecting the earned benefits of America’s veterans for more than a decade. Gaytan is the Executive Director of the American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in America.
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