An 11-member panel of the ninth circuit court of appeals decided yesterday that instead of forcing a revamp of the Department of Veterans Affairs mental health system, it’s the job of the U.S congress and the president to fix the massive problems in the VA.
The decision overruled an earlier three judge panel that had found that the VA’s “unchecked incompetence” was unconstitutional, and they must make changes to the mental healthcare system immediately. This decision comes just a couple of weeks after a VA Inspector General’s report that said the department is exaggerating how well it provides mental healthcare for its members.
The VA had claimed that 95 percent of soldiers seeking mental healthcare received it within their stated goal of 14 days, however the I.G report found that less than half actually receive care in that amount of time and most wait 50 days for a full evaluation. The report was yet another blow to an embattled system that has seen more than its share of bad press.
Now the question is ... can the administration be fixed? Now that the 9th circuit has kicked fixing the VA back to congress and the president, where do we go from here? Will congress act to secure better mental health for vets? Will the president? What ideas are out there to fix a system that most agree is broken? What does the VA need to get back on track? How can we best provide for the mental healthcare of vets when they return from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Judith Broder, MD, founder, The Soldiers Project, group of volunteer licensed mental health professionals that provide free counseling and support to military service members.
Tom Tarantino, Deputy Policy Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
J.P Tremblay, Deputy Secretary for Legislation and Communication, California Department of Veterans affairs