It has been more than three months since a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit accused the Department of Veterans Affairs of “unchecked incompetence” and unconscionable delays in caring for veterans with mental health problems.
Instead of working with the plaintiffs to address the court’s concerns, the V.A. is appealing the ruling.
The V.A. is determined to overturn that ruling. It is seeking a rehearing from the full appellate court. It argues, among other things, that Congress had specifically sought to prevent federal circuit courts from “second-guessing” V.A. decisions about benefits under a 1988 law, which set up the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to review disability claims.
The two nonprofits are urging that the rehearing be denied. They argue, sensibly, that while the 1988 law imposed limits on federal courts’ oversight of the V.A.’s bureaucratic decisions, Congress surely did not intend to deny veterans any judicial forum to challenge the systematic and structural denial of their constitutional rights.
The current crisis, they say, is not about federal judges meddling in specific decisions by the agency to grant or withhold some veterans’ benefits. It is about trying to compel the agency to fix a grossly deficient process for providing mental health care, a system that is failing nationwide.
For veterans who are dying for lack of timely care, due process has been replaced by no process, or process with pervasive delays. These court delays are adding insult to those injuries. This cannot continue.