Veterans Not Entitled To Specific Types Of Health Care

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Veteran Health Care

The Bushadministration on Wednesday filed arguments in a lawsuit in the U.S. DistrictCourt of San Francisco stating that veterans have no legal right to specifictypes of medical care, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The arguments were filedin response to a class-action lawsuit brought by veterans who claim they wereillegally denied mental health treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle,2/5).

Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth filed the suit in July 2007, alleging that VA is responsible for a"systemwide pattern of abusive and illegal administrative practices."The lawsuit claims VA failed to deliver the mandatory two years of disabilitybenefits for veterans, failed to address staff problems that led to long waittimes for care and provided insufficient care for post-traumatic stressdisorder. The lawsuit also claims VA deliberately reclassified PTSD claims aspre-existing disorders as a way to avoid paying out benefits.

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In January, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti rejected the government's attemptto have the case dismissed, ruling that federal law entitles veterans to healthcare for a period of two years after leaving the service (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/11).A bill signed by President Bush last week extends the period from two to fiveyears.

According to government lawyers, federal law establishes "veterans' eligibilityfor health care, but it does not create an entitlement to any particularmedical service." The lawyers said the law entitles veterans only to"medical care which the secretary (of Veterans Affairs) determines isneeded, and only to the extent funds ... are available." The governmentattorneys also said VA "is making great progress in addressing the mentalhealth care needs of combat veterans," citing a law passed in November2007 that established a suicide-prevention program that makes mental healthcare available around the clock. A hearing will be held March 7 before Conti.

Gordon Erspamer, the attorney representing about 320,000 to 800,000 veterans inthe class-action lawsuit, said, "Veterans need to know in this countrythat the government thinks all their benefits are mere gratuities."According to Erspamer, "They're saying it's completely discretionary, thateven if Congress appropriates money for veterans' health care, we can doanything we want with it" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/5).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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