Veterans have no legal right to specific types of medical care, the Bush administration argues in a lawsuit accusing the government of illegally denying mental health treatment to some troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is making progress in increasing its staffing and screening veterans for combat-related stress, Justice Department lawyers said. But their central argument is that Congress left decisions about who should get health care, and what type of care, to the VA and not to veterans or the courts.
A federal law providing five years of care for veterans from the date of their discharge establishes "veterans' eligibility for health care, but it does not create an entitlement to any particular medical service," government lawyers said.
They said the law entitles veterans only to "medical care which the secretary (of Veterans Affairs) determines is needed, and only to the extent funds ... are available."
"Veterans need to know in this country that the government thinks all their benefits are mere gratuities," attorney Gordon Erspamer said. "They're saying it's completely discretionary, that even if Congress appropriates money for veterans' health care, we can do anything we want with it."
The issue will be joined March 7 at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, who denied the administration's request last month to dismiss the suit. While the case is pending, the plaintiffs want Conti to order the government to provide immediate mental health treatment for veterans who say they are thinking of killing themselves and to spend another $60 million on health care.
The suit accuses the VA of arbitrarily denying care and benefits to wounded veterans, of forcing them to wait months for treatment and years for benefits, and of failing to provide fair procedures for appealing decisions against them.
The plaintiffs say that the department has a backlog of more than 600,000 disability claims and that 120 veterans a week commit suicide.
Honestly, what are these guys angry about? Didn't they see the yellow "Support the Troops" magnetic ribbon on the administration's cars? So they should know that they support the troops.
Just not enough to stop them from killing themselves. Or, for that matter, to stop other people from killing them.