* Veterans say VA slow in processing mental health claims
* They say delays contributed to veterans' suicides
* Lower court had ruled against veterans
By Jonathan Stempel
WASHINGTON, Jan 7 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday refused to consider a challenge by veterans who said
delays by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in processing
combat-related mental health claims contributed to suicides by
Without comment, the court let stand a May 2012 decision by
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, which
said it could not conclude that the VA broke the law by letting
some veterans' healthcare claims stagnate for several years, and
that only Congress or the president could direct changes.
That 10-1 decision reversed a 2-1 ruling by a panel of that
court a year earlier that ordered the VA to ensure that suicidal
veterans are seen immediately. The smaller panel cited the
agency's "unchecked incompetence" in handling post-traumatic
stress disorder and other mental health claims.
Non-profit groups including Veterans for Common Sense and
Veterans United for Truth Inc had argued that because the agency
took so long to process claims, it contributed to the despair
that has led to the roughly 6,500 suicides among U.S. veterans
In their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the non-profit
groups had said that the 9th Circuit erred in finding no
jurisdiction over challenges to the VA's "Kafkaesque" procedures
and failure to provide medical benefits and resolve
service-related benefits claims in a timely manner.
The U.S. Department of Justice, representing the VA, said
the 9th Circuit decision was correct, and that the White House
and Congress are in a better position than judges to address the
VA's day-to-day operational issues.
The case is Veterans for Common Sense et al v. Shinseki et
al, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-296.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Washington; Editing by Eric