Two veterans' advocacy groups on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs alleging that its failure to process disability claims in a timely manner has resulted in economic and other problems for hundreds of thousands of military personnel, the Cox/Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Vietnam Veterans for America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, which represent about 60,000 veterans.

According to the lawsuit, "The VA's failure to provide timely benefits decisions often leads to financial crises, homelessness, addiction and suicide." The suit calls on VA to provide waiting veterans with interim benefits for claims that take at least 90 days to process or more than six months to appeal.

Robert Cattanach, a Minneapolis-based attorney for the veterans, said there currently are about 600,000 service members who are awaiting the outcomes of their disability claims, which can take six months to one year to be processed. Appeals can take up to four years to be processed. Cattanach said that as more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan return to the U.S., VA likely will see an increase of hundreds of thousands of additional disability claims. Phil Budahn, a VA spokesperson, declined to comment on the lawsuit (Deans, Cox /Memphis Commercial Appeal, 11/11).

Bergen Record: There is "cause for concern, not just for the number [of service members] coming back [from the wars] with physical injuries, but for the increasing number returning with mental health injuries, too," a Record editorial states. According to the editorial, "War doesn't just cost a lot of money," adding, "The aftereffects come with a high social price tag: higher rates possibly of suicide, drinking, overeating, lost productivity, spousal abuse, divorce and, perhaps, homelessness." The U.S. government "has devoted billions of dollars to aid the faltering economy," and it "must devote as much money as is needed to aid its veterans," the editorial continues (Bergen Record, 11/11).

Detroit Free Press: One of "the ironies of modern warfare" is that "because of improved first aid and training, more troops survive grave injuries, but they may require extensive rehabilitation and expensive prosthetics," according to a Free Press editorial. However, "those are just the visible wounds," the editorial states, adding, "Closed head injuries from explosive devices are terribly common in Iraq and psychological wounds may not surface until a soldier is well out of uniform." The editorial continues, "To the extent their situation may be a byproduct of war, this is utterly unacceptable." The editorial states, "To its credit, the VA has cut the average number of days it takes to process a benefits claim from 233 in 2002 to 161 today, and reduced its backlog of disability claims by about 50,000 from a high of 432,000 in 2002." But, "there's more to do," the editorial states (Detroit Free Press, 11/11).

Philadelphia Daily News: "This year, there have been increasing concerns about vets' mental health needs, with many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," according to a Daily News editorial. "Faster and better treatment might decrease the high rates of vet suicides," the editorial states, adding, "We all have a responsibility to make sure that treatment is honorable, and the concern lasts longer than a day" (Philadelphia Daily News, 11/11).

South Florida Sun-Sentinel: During the next session of Congress, "the House will be working on projects like implementing the GI Bill, on making sure there is adequate health care treatment for all veterans, streamlining the disability claims process and doing medical evaluations on all veterans," a Sun-Sentinel editorial states. Veterans' issues need to "get the attention they deserve" because they "aren't going away," the Sun-Sentinel writes, adding that "it's far too easy ... to forget them" as the U.S. concentrates on the economy (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 11/11).

St. Petersburg Times: VA "has been dogged for years by accusations that it is at best careless and at worst deliberate in its misplacement of veterans' documents. Now it appears as though there is truth to some of the allegations," a Times editorial states. An internal review found VA benefits offices around the country had documents stacked in a queue for shredding that were key in making decisions on veterans' pension and disability claims, according to the editorial. The Times states that "the findings so far demonstrate that the VA needs to employ more electronic record keeping." The editorial continues, "Another issue is the VA's compensation system, which encourages adjudicators to move claims rather than judge them correctly," adding, "Documents such as key medical assessments may get destroyed as a way to make denials easier." The Times states, "Now that it's clear that improper document shredding is occurring, the VA has a big job to do, starting with changing the culture of carelessness that seems endemic" (St. Petersburg Times, 11/10).

Opinion Piece
Linda Rosenberg, Philadelphia Daily News: "For the thousands of vets ... who return with physical and mental scars, their wounds can present particular challenges for years," Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, writes in a Daily News opinion piece. She continues, "The wars overseas rarely make front-page news these days, but they still loom large for families left behind during tours of duty and dealing with the war's aftermath in the form of veterans returning with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and substance abuse."

President Bush last month "signed the Veterans Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act," which "directs [VA] to contract with community health organizations to provide mental-health services in rural areas in which access to VA services is inadequate," Rosenberg writes, adding, "But we shouldn't expect the pros to go it alone" as "[e]veryone has a role in helping vets overcome the stigma of mental illness."

She writes, "Whether we are a veteran, family member, friend, co-worker or simply a concerned citizen, we all need to make sure we continue to fight the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment." Rosenberg concludes, "We need to go the extra yard to ensure that veterans who may be suffering from mental illnesses receive the help they need" (Rosenberg, Philadelphia Daily News, 11/11).

Broadcast Coverage
CNN's "American Morning" on Monday examined what veterans are hoping for from the Obama administration, including overhauling the VA (Bolduan, "American Morning," CNN, 11/10). A transcript of the show is available online.

PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Monday examined the rising suicide rate among veterans and the strategies for treating mental health issues among service members (Bowser, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 11/10).

WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show" on Tuesday examined the medical, mental health and other needs of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the efforts to improve the delivery of services. The segment includes comments from Barbara Romberg, founder and president of "Give an Hour" and a clinical psychologist; Sydney Freedberg, staff correspondent for National Journal; and Jason Forrester, director of policy for Veterans for America (Rehm, "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 11/11).

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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