Monday, April 21, 2008


A Suit with Agenda

The Associated Press ran a story today reporting on a class action lawsuit that’s been filed against The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). According to the AP, the lawsuit was filed by two “non profit groups representing military veterans.”

Here’s the AP background on the lawsuit, and the positions of litigants:
The lawsuit, filed in July by two nonprofit groups representing military veterans, accuses the agency of inadequately addressing a "rising tide" of mental health problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder.

But government lawyers say the VA has been devoting more resources to mental health and making suicide prevention a top priority. They also argue that the courts don't have the authority to tell the department how it should operate.

The trial is set to begin Monday in a San Francisco federal court.

An average of 18 military veterans kill themselves each day, and five of them are under VA care when they commit suicide, according to a December e-mail between top VA officials that was filed as part of the federal lawsuit.

"That failure to provide care is manifesting itself in an epidemic of suicides," the veterans groups wrote in court papers filed Thursday.
MILBLOGGERS have long recognized this line of criticism against our military, the VA, and the Bush Administration. Much of what’s been written and press-released for the public has been filled was misinformation and distortions, if not outright fabrications. There’s been no “epidemic of suicides” in the military, and the suicide rate for the military is actually lower than the rates for non-military when like data sets are compared.

Some of the reported distortions about a non-existent epidemic of suicides have been due to faulty data analysis, that fails to account for higher proportion of young women and particularly young men in military populations. So if these numbers are matched against equal distributions of non-military cohorts the results will skew and make the military suicide rates seems higher. Many reputable media outlets just make honest (but ignorant and amateurish) mistakes, but partisans have been seeking to manipulate and misrepresent reporting in this area.Now, these same have started some non-profit 501c organizations and launched a class action suit to hype their claims:
"We find that the VA has simply not devoted enough resources," said Gordon Erspamer, the lawyer representing the veterans groups. "They don't have enough psychiatrists."

The lawsuit also alleges that the VA takes too long to pay disability claims and that its internal appellate process unconstitutionally denies veterans their right to take their complaints to court.

The groups are asking U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti, a World War II U.S. Army veteran, to order the VA to drastically overhaul its system. Conti is hearing the trial without a jury.

"What I would like to see from the VA is that they actually treat patients with respect," said Bob Handy, head of the Veterans United for Truth, one of the groups suing the agency.

Handy, 76, who retired from the Navy in 1970, said he founded the veterans group in 2004 after hearing myriad complaints from veterans about their treatment at the VA when he was a member of the Veterans Caucus of the state Democratic Party. The department acknowledges in court papers that it takes on average about 180 days to decide whether to approve a disability claim.

"I would just like to see the VA do the honorable thing," said Handy, who is expected to testify during the weeklong trial.
I would never in a million years claim that the VA is perfect, or deny that the VA is currently burdened pretty heavily with an influx of new Veterans seeking assistance.

But I’m a disabled Veteran, who served in Iraq in 2005, and the VA of my generation has dramatically improved and demonstrates greater responsiveness than at any time in its history. If VUFT Founder Handy ever experienced the VA first hand back then, he can’t possibly think it’s not light years better today. If he thinks so, he’s lying, and what’s more, he’d know it. The VA during the years since Vietnam until the Gulf War was a failing institution, overwhelmed, under-supported, and trying to counteract the shameful embarrassment of how the US – our Government and our citizenry – treated Vietnam Veterans.

We had several Vietnam Vets deploy with us to Iraq, and the services, care, and attention they received from the Army and the VA quite literally brought them to tears on more than one occasion. At all levels of command, we encouraged soldiers to take advantage of resources, Mental Health and other medical services, that were available pre-, during, and post-deployment.

As a First Sergeant, I can adamantly declare that no soldier was left alone, to his or her own devices, leaders at all levels monitored their soldiers, and the VA made no less than half a dozen visits to our unit for post-deployment health reassessments. Our NY State Veterans Representatives, at the State, County and local levels, made every effort to assist soldiers and point them (and even push them) towards any needed services.

Some resisted, especially those who served in the National Guard as Active Guard Reserve (AGR) or State Technicians, fearful that a VA filing or claim or any treatment could jeopardize their employment. (I don’t think their fears were founded, everybody seems like they are looking out for our Vets, but I don’t blame them for being suspicious.)

Others soldiers just took the “tough it out” approach or minimized any problems they had. People who serve in the military tend to be stoic by nature, and place great value on self-sufficiency, sacrifice, and dedication to their mission. Sometimes that means they ignore symptoms, but if any did, it was in spite of a massive effort to identify soldiers for treatment.

I attended a couple of counseling sessions at the VA Vet Center, and I know guys that are being treated for PTSD. Things aren’t always great, they get frustrated, I personally think there’s a too frequent tendency to medicate rather than commit to counseling therapies, but I know that many need what the medications provide, at least in the beginning. Locally, many of the guys with real difficulties had big time difficulties before they came in to service, or have real personal difficulties. Several came to the VA now, with problems that originated in the Gulf War. I think we have some Vietnam Vets that likewise have aftereffects from Vietnam that are being stirred up with new combat experiences.

My initial VA claim took 8 months to process, and a second, additional claim took about 6 months. From what I’ve heard over the years, that seems like a pretty fast response, given the data gathering, medical evaluations, boards, and so forth.

Can the VA improve, or hire more psychiatrists, or better, psychologists and counselors? Certainly. But the idea that the VA has been somehow negligent, or that a class action lawsuit will help anything, is insane.

The AP report does a good job of presenting the VA’s explanation of where things are, and what are the causes of the massive mission they undertake:
The VA also said it is besieged with an unprecedented number of claims, which have grown from 675,000 in 2001 to 838,000 in 2007. The rise is prompted not from the current war, but from veterans growing older, government lawyers said.

"The largest component of these new claims is the aging veteran population of the Vietnam and Cold War eras," the government filing stated. "As they age, older veterans may lose employment-related health care, prompting them to seek VA benefits for the first time."

Government lawyers in their filings defended its average claims processing time as "reasonable," given that it has to prove the veterans disability was incurred during service time.

They also noted the VA will spend $3.8 billion for fiscal year 2008 on mental health and announced a policy in June that requires all medical centers to have mental health staff available all the time to provide urgent care. They said that "suicide prevention is a singular priority for the VA."

The VA "has hired over 3,700 new mental health professionals in the last two and a half years, bringing the total number of mental health professionals within VA to just under 17,000. This hiring effort continues," they said.
The lawsuit isn’t really about the Vets, or getting them better treatment. Because this generation’s Vets are being done right, by just about everybody involved in the process -- including partisan politicians and other opportunists trying to use the Vets to advance their agendas.

About Veterans United for Truth

VUFT has a “five point philosophy,” that eerily matches Democratic anti-war talking points adopted since the end of the Clinton Administration (when presumably these concerned Veterans were A-OK with Clinton era military interventions, or Executive use of military force as authorized by Congress):
War only if our nation or its true allies are in grave danger.
Strict adherence to Article I, Section 8 - “The Congress shall have power … To declare war ...”
A decision for war is a decision for immediate and meaningful national sacrifice which must include relief, wherever possible, of the grave burden on the troops and their families.
Affirm the Powell Doctrine - troops must be totally prepared, must be sent in overwhelming numbers, and must know the truth of what they are fighting for, what constitutes success, and how they will exit.
Perpetual, timely, quality care for those who have borne the direct burden - the troops and their families - inclusion of these costs in the initial cost of war as part of the continuing national sacrifice.
This is rich. Congress has abdicated, even renounced its Constitutional role and responsibilities for declaring war against US enemies. Instead, ever since Korea, the US Congress has preferred to vest authority in the President to deploy US military forces or conduct “police actions.” Congress likes it this way, so that if things go badly, they can deny any responsibility, play critic, and pillory the President.

Can anyone imagine demanding that Veterans be given assurances like those contained in bullets 3, 4, or 5? Forget bearing any burden or making any sacrifices. Our national security would always be held hostage to caution and cataloging, bean counting and fear.

VUFT tracks something they refer to as “US Incursions on Foreign Soil – 188 and counting.”

This list doesn’t include WWI and WWII, as those are presumably considered “good wars,” but it does include the War of 1812 against Britain. It also includes odd and distorted descriptions for our long deployment of military forces in the former Yugoslavia:
1993-1995, Bosnia, Active military involvement with air and ground forces.
1995, Croatia, Krajina Serb airfields attacked.
No mention of US peacekeeping forces that have been deployed continuously to Bosnia and Kosovo since the Clinton Administration. Perhaps they are omitted because a Democratic President initiated the missions, or that they’re called “peacekeeping.” I don’t see how these deployments are somehow different than others that are included on the VUFT listing. Unless of course you consider the possibility that VUFT adheres to a partisan political agenda, and only seeks primarily to discredit military operations initiated by the Bush Administration.

(Cross posted at MILBLOGS)

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