Court reverses itself on veterans healthcare overhaul

Reuters News
Posted: May 07, 2012 3:14 PM
Court reverses itself on veterans healthcare overhaul

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court has reversed a ruling that ordered a major overhaul of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because of the agency's failure to properly treat combat-related mental problems.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said it lacked authority to direct changes to speed treatment of veterans.

It also said it lacked authority to consider challenges to how the department adjudicates claims.

"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," Judge Jay Bybee wrote for a 10-1 majority.

The case had been brought by two nonprofit groups, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth.

Monday's decision overturned a 2-1 ruling last May by a panel of the same court, which cited the VA's alleged "unchecked incompetence" in demanding an overhaul. The 9th Circuit later decided to rehear the case with more judges.

The veterans' groups had claimed the VA's failure to give timely treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses was a factor behind a high suicide rate among returning veterans. The VA said 18 veterans commit suicide per day.

A lawyer for the groups did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The VA also did not immediately respond.

The case is Veterans for Common Sense et al v. Shinseki et al, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 08-16728.

(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York and Lily Kuo in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott)