VA Under Secretary Defends System

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Under Secretary for Health for the Veterans’ Administration denied that the agency failed to implement mental health care recommendations, and that an employee who pointed out failures was removed from her position, as testimony in Veterans for Common Sense versus the Veterans Administration continued this week.




     On many occasions, Dr. Michael Kussman, who became Under Secretary in May 2007, said he failed to recall whether recommendations by the 2004 Mental Health Strategic Plan were being implemented.
     In response to a question from plaintiffs’ attorney Arturo Gonzalez about whether local VA offices had established a referral system for veterans suffering from PTSD or depression a full three years after they were supposed to, Kussman said, “We believe very strongly that when patients come to us they should be seen appropriately.” When asked again, Kussman said, “If we can’t provide (appropriate services on site) we would then find some other way to deliver the care.”
     Gonzalez then presented a pie graph indicating that more than 16 percent of offices did not have a referral system in place after three years; Kussman acknowledged that the graph showed as much.
     Kussman said he did not see any connection between Frances Murphy, the former delegate to the President’s New Freedom Commission and Action Agenda, having her job eliminated shortly after expressing concern about the amount of time the VA was taking to improve access to mental health. He said it was a “management decision that the position was not necessary.”
     Testimony from Kussman will continue Monday. The trial resumes is expected to last through most of next week.
     The class action, filed in July 2007 by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, claims the Veterans Administration has failed to meet “our nation’s legal and moral obligations to honor and care for our wounded veterans who have served our country.”
     Plaintiffs cite a backlog of more than 600,000 claims, forcing some veterans to wait up to 10 years for a claim to be fully decided.
     The Morrison & Foerster law firm is representing the plaintiffs pro bono.
     The bench trial is being held before Judge Samuel Conti.
     

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