Veterans' groups win post-traumatic stress disorder ruling
Mercury News
By Josh Richman
Bay Area News Group
January 10, 2008

A federal judge in San Francisco has cleared the way for a national class-action lawsuit challenging how Department of Veterans Affairs treats Iraq and Afghanistan war casualties with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The federal system for weighing individual veterans' claims "does not provide an adequate alternative remedy for Plaintiffs' claims for several reasons," U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti wrote in a 42-page order rejecting the government's motion to dismiss three of the lawsuit's four claims.

The lawsuit, which was filed in July by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates on behalf of Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, claims the VA has violated federal laws and veterans' civil rights by taking too long to provide mental-health care and disability benefits, and in some cases denying them completely, for PTSD.

"VA first mistreated hundreds of thousands of veterans, then took the position that the vets could not bring their grievances to court to be heard," DRA managing attorney Melissa Kasnitz said in a statement issued Thursday. "Today, VA's shameful effort to keep these deserving veterans from their day in court was rejected."

VA spokespeople couldn't be reached for comment late Thursday, but spokeswoman Jo Schuda in July had said the agency is committed to "meeting the special needs" of the nation's latest war veterans.

"Through outreach efforts, the VA ensures that returning Global War on Terror service members have access to the widely recognized quality health care they have earned."

DRA claims that while most disabled veterans cannot receive medical treatment without an approved disability claim, VA now has a backlog of more than 600,000 claim applications, with some dating back to the Vietnam era. And even after claims have been approved, veterans face serious problems in receiving care, the lawsuit claims.

Meanwhile, somewhere between 15 percent and 50 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, the lawsuit claims.

"We can now address the disgraceful fact that it takes an average of 177 days for VA to process an initial claim for disability benefits, and an additional 657 days, on average, for an appeal, so most veterans wait years for needed medical and mental health treatment, unless they give up or die first," DRA attorney Sid Wolinsky said.

Bay Area News Group staff writer Dogen Hannah contributed to this report. Contact Josh Richman at or (510) 208-6428.

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