Where I Failed

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The VA’s unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough; no more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations.”

Judge Reinhardt, Ninth Circuit.

Well, it’s official: denying veterans medical treatment is unconstitutional according to the ninth circuit court of appeals. The VA’s incompetence – the Court’s words not mine – have cost American veterans’ lives.

As I read through this decision a few things really stuck out. First, the number: 18 veterans kill themselves daily. Second, bipartisanship: the majority judges acceded to a request by the minority judge to allow the Executive branch to sort out its own business (it failed). Finally, direct language: incompetence.

I am one of the veterans that the court is concerned about. In 2006, following tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I loaded a 9MM pistol, drove alone out into the desert and parked, ready to put a bullet through my head. I got most of the way through the process before I was interrupted.

About 1000 veterans every day go through this same process whether with a gun or drugs, a razor or a parked car. Most fail or back out. A score succeed. Some of these veterans are recent returnees. But it doesn’t matter when or where they served, the court has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs has a constitutional mandate to provide for their mental health care needs.

A lawyer friend says this decision will certainly go to the Supreme Court of the United States. My colleague Mark Thompson thinks this will be hugely expensive. As a veteran, and particularly as a veteran with mental health care needs, my principal concern is that the VA cut through the backlog of three quarters of a million requests for benefits – full disclosure, mine is one of them – and give people what they are due before more American servicemen and women succeed where I failed.