gavel.jpgA federal appeals court in San Francisco announced Wednesday it will reconsider a ruling in which it ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to revamp its procedures for providing mental health care.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will review a decision in which a smaller panel ruled by a 2-1 vote that that department’s “unchecked incompetence” and delays were violating veterans’ constitutional due process right to receive treatment.

The smaller panel ordered U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti of San Francisco to supervise a speedy overhaul of procedures for treating veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that ruling will now be on hold while the larger panel reconsiders the case. No date has been set thus far for a hearing.

The case stems from a federal lawsuit filed in 2007 by two veterans’ groups, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth.

The groups claim a huge backlog in processing claims for mental health care has contributed to a rate of 126 veteran suicides per week.

In the ruling filed in May, 9th Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Procter Hug said, “Veterans are suffering and dying, heedlessly and needlessly.”

But Chief Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski said in a dissent that the majority ruling went beyond limits established by Congress on courts’ ability to review VA decisions.

The 11-judge circuit court panel’s eventual decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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