Federal Appeals Court Reconsiders Ruling Calling for Overhaul of Veterans Mental Health Services

29 Nov 2011

In what is sure to be a major disappointment to veterans groups and California veterans’ benefits lawyers, a federal appeals court has gone back on an earlier ruling calling for a major improvement to mental health services for veterans returning from combat. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered a rehearing of the case, and has withdrawn an earlier opinion that called for an overhaul of these services.

in May, the three-judge panel had sharply criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for its failure to provide for injured veterans. The case was related to a lawsuit filed by two nonprofit organizations, Veterans United for Truth Inc. and Veterans for Common Sense. The lawsuit filed in 2007 alleged that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been shamefully negligent in its duty to take care of wounded veterans.

A district court in California dismissed those claims, ruling that the court lacked the legal authority to meddle in the agency's matters. However, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's order, citing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ incompetence and egregious problems in addressing the mental health concerns of veterans. According to the ruling, the failure by the Department of Veterans Affairs to address these issues violated the Constitution by infringing on veterans’ rights.

That ruling had been welcomed by California veterans benefits lawyers, because it finally looked like the legal system was going to step in to protect veterans’ rights to proper mental care services after their return from combat. However, this week, the Ninth Circuit reconsidered its decision. The court reversed its position, calling for a rehearing of the case. The new hearing has been scheduled for December 12.