Veteran's Mental Health and PTSD Lawsuites, part 1

Kimberly Tyler Health Guide
  • In a press release dated July 23, 2007, the law firm Morrison and Foerster, LLC filed a Veteran's Civil Rights Case alleging "‘shameful failures' by the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs and other government institutions to care for veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."[1] This is the first civil rights class action suit of its kind for veterans against the Department of Veteran's Affairs, associated veteran agencies, and the US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.


    Filed in the US District Court of the Northern District of California, the plaintiffs in the case are Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United For Truth, Inc., two non-profit organizations based in Washington, DC and San Francisco respectively. They are representing their members as well as the class of all veterans similarly situated.[2]  Morrison & Foerster, LLC are handling this case on behalf of the plaintiffs pro bono. (http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/ and http://www.vuft.org/)

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    Both plaintiff non-profit organizations recognize the significant impact of PTSD on veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Veterans were forced to endure conditions characterized by consistent lack of safety requiring constant hypervilgilence, an absence of reprieve or respite for months, multiple rotations into combat (and extended tours) of duty on the "front lines" without distinct battle lines, and the use of incendiary weapons, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings.


    The imperative need for mental health services for veterans cannot be overstated. "Currently, approximately more than 1.6 million men and women have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. A recent report issued by the Defense Department's Task Force on Mental Health found that 38% of soldiers and 50% of National Guard members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan report mental health issues ranging from post-combat stress to brain injuries.... Delays in treatment of PTSD can lead to alcoholism, crime, drug addiction, homelessness, anti-social behavior, or suicide."[3] There is also the issue of other mood disorders like major depressive disorder being experienced in addition to the PTSD.


    PTSD is categorized under Anxiety Disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV). PTSD occurs as a result of experiencing an event (or series of events) so severe or grave (or perceived as severe or grave) that an individual is incapable of processing the incident(s) psychologically. In other words, the usual method of connecting the emotional response and the physical incident together is prevented, and full expression of the emotional impact of the trauma occurs.


    The above is only the most basic outline of the formation of PTSD. The lingering effect of not integrating the emotional experience of the trauma with the cognitive knowledge of the trauma is what leads to clinical diagnosis.


  • PTSD has no genetic predisposition, nor is it a result of a pre-existing psychological condition or a character trait of weakness or fragility. A diagnosis of PTSD occurs regardless of a person's level of intelligence or knowledge of the event(s) itself. PTSD is an affective disorder. (It is important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.)


    The symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, anxiety or panic attacks, depression, disassociation (separation of mind from physical body), hypervilgilence (high startle response), emotional numbness or tuning out, nightmares and flashbacks. Additional symptoms that may also arise are low self-esteem, a sense of worthlessness, perfectionism (or workaholism), alcoholism and addiction, lack of boundaries, an inability to trust oneself or others, an inability to adequately assess a situation for danger, suicide ideation (or suicide), and the capacity to be triggered. Being triggered is the terminology used to describe what occurs to the individual when a memory of any type associated with the traumatic event occurs in present time and causes the person to quickly retreat back to the helplessness of the moment of earlier trauma (this is not always a conscious reaction). A trigger can be just about anything: a person, a place, a smell, a sound, a situation, a touch, a phrase, a feeling, an object, or a sensation: basically, anything that suggests or resembles the traumatic event itself.[4]

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    Given the severity of PTSD, the defendants named in the class action lawsuit have much at stake. Their names will be showing up in the news as this case moves through the courts, and they are on the hook if the situation for disabled veterans is not improved and corrected. The defendants in this civil action suit are named as follows: R. James Nicholson, Secretary of Department of Veteran Affairs (who incidentally resigned on July 17, 2007); James P. Terry, Chairman, Board of Veterans Appeals; Daniel L. Cooper, Under Secretary, Veterans Benefits Administration; Bradley G. Mayes, Director, Compensation and Pension Service; Dr. Michael J. Kussman, Under Secretary, Veterans Health Administration; Pritz K. Navara, Veterans Service Center Manager, Oakland Regional Office, Department of Veteran's Affairs; Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States; and William P. Greene, Jr., Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.[5] The Veterans Judicial Review Act (i.e., how disability claims are handled and decided) and the related administrative polices and procedures are also objected to in the class action lawsuit.[6]


    The class action lawsuit is not monetarily based; rather, the lawsuit is for declaratory and injunctive relief under the US Constitution and Rehabilitation Act (1973). Part 2 of this article series will define these legal terms and explain their implications.




    [1] Press Release, Morrison & Foerster, LLC. Class Action Filed Challenging Government's Mistreatment of Returning Veteran's Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. July 23, 2007. http://www.mofo.com/news/pressreleases/12570.html

  • [2] Original copy of Civil Suit filed by attorneys of Morrison & Foerster, July 23, 2007 with Richard W. Wieking, Clerk, US District Court, Northern District of California.

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    [3] Original copy of Civil Suit filed by attorneys of Morrison & Foerster, July 23, 2007 with Richard W. Wieking, Clerk, US District Court, Northern District of California.

    [4] My Story-Part I (Sharepost/Journal Entry Kimberly Tyler June 7, 2007)

    [5] Original copy of Civil Suit filed by attorneys of Morrison & Foerster, July 23, 2007 with Richard W. Wieking, Clerk, US District Court, Northern District of California

    [6] Original copy of Civil Suit filed by attorneys of Morrison & Foerster, July 23, 2007 with Richard W. Wieking, Clerk, US District Court, Northern District of California

Published On: August 03, 2007