Injured vets and the V.A. head to court

April 22, 2008 11:28:07 AM PDT
One of the most important trials ever involving America's veterans began today in San Francisco federal court.

Two veterans groups are suing the government to improve the treatment of vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Those suing the US Department of Veterans Affairs say they are in San Francisco to prove that the system is broken, and they say is in need of repair.

In San Francisco's federal courthouse, the treatment of veterans with mental and stress illnesses is being closely examined.

Paul Sullivan is with Veterans for Common Sense, one of the plaintiffs in this case.

"We want the veterans to be encouraged to go to V.A. if they have any problems and we want V.A. to be ready, willing and able to help the vets when they show up," said Paul Sullivan from Veterans for Common Sense.

Those suing the federal government say vets who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are discouraged because it takes so long to process a claim.

Especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder also known as PTSD.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it takes on average 189 days to process a claim. The attorney for the Veterans' Groups says it's more than a year.

"Most of them can't find lawyers. They are baffled by the system; they have PTSD for God's sake. They give up," said attorney Gordon Erspamer.

Kerri Childress is with the Department of Veterans Affairs. She says in 2007 they processed 838,000 claims, a 25 percent increase since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

Part of the problem is the government is also dealing with new claims from aging Vietnam vets.

"We have to service connect the disability which means that somewhere either through illness or injury we have to connect it back to their service time," said Childress.

In court on Monday, a confidential e-mail revealed that suicide prevention coordinators from the V.A. medical facilities are identifying 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans.

Ernesto Estrada fought in Iraq. He sought help from a private doctor.

"I was doing a lot of drinking, I had a lot of survivor guilt and all of the going through your head, so I just worked and went to school and kept myself busy, but eventually that catches up to you," said Iraq War veteran Ernesto Estrada.

The veterans groups would like a court to appoint a special master to help expedite this claim. It's been done before when a special master was appointed to handle all of the claims related to Agent Orange back in the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange was a violent chemical which was used in Vietnam to help clear the brush to help our troops.

The case in San Francisco is expected to last for at least two weeks.


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