So says a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after reviewing the evidence about the ability of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer an appropriately level of mental health care and treatment to returning soldiers.
In this way, the costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been grossly underestimated, because they don’t take into account the increased needs and costs of the vets’ ongoing and increasing mental health care. The longer we’re at war, the worse it’s going to get.
According to the article on TIME.com about the recent ruling, not only do some vets have to wait weeks to get in to see a mental health professional at many VA medical centers, but there’s often no significant triaging done. Actively suicidal vets may not get the care they need, before it’s too late.
The result? Nearly one-third of the vets who end up committing suicide do so while under VA care. But two-thirds aren’t even being seen by the VA for a mental health concern.
The evidence is more than a little eye-opening:
About five of every 18 veterans who kill themselves each day are under the VA’s care, the court said.
“Although the VA is obligated to provide veterans mental health services, many veterans with severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (`PTSD’) are forced to wait weeks for mental health referrals and are given no opportunity to request or demonstrate their need for expedited care,” the decision said.
“The delays have worsened in recent years, as the influx of injured troops returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan has placed an unprecedented strain on the VA, and has overwhelmed the system that it employs to provide medical care to veterans and to process their disability benefits claims.”
So the three judge panel concluded that the lack of timely access to mental health care through the VA system violates veterans’ Constitutional rights:
The United States Constitution confers upon veterans and their surviving relatives a right to the effective provision of mental health care and to the just and timely adjudication of their claims for health care and service-connected death and disability benefits… their entitlements to the provision of health care and to veterans’ benefits are property interests protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The deprivation of those property interests by delaying their provision, without justification and without any procedure to expedite, violates veterans’ constitutional rights.
The solution will be an expensive fix, but a needed one. The VA will have to hire more mental health professionals — primarily psychologists, because they are the most diverse professional available and are already well-entrenched within the VA system.
It seems odd — and short-sighted — to me that our government sends soldiers off to fight in wars, but doesn’t realize that the costs of taking care of those same brave men and women when they return home is going to increase. And increase at a rate consistent and in direct correlation with (a) the length of time you’re engaged in combat operations and (b) the amount of soldiers you send into a combat zone.
Perhaps such decisions as this federal court’s one will make the government think twice before entering yet another conflict. A nation — and its budget — can only take so much fighting.