(AP) The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs isn't doing enough to prevent suicide and provide adequate medical care for Americans who have served in the armed forces, a class-action lawsuit that goes to trial this week charges.
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.
A study released this week by the RAND Corp. estimates that 300,000 U.S. troops - about 20 percent of those deployed - are suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"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."
Eighteen Veterans a day commit suicide--that's a staggering number. How many of those could be prevented with simple care? If only 5 of the 18 are under VA care, how many are under no care at all and have no health insurance?
This is, hopefully, a lawsuit that will bring changes for the better.