Nightly News | May 28, 2011
>>> as this country prepares to honor its veterans on memorial day , a federal appeals court has come down hard on the department of veteran affairs , accusing it of unchecked i incompetence in providing mental health care for vets returning from iraq and afghanistan. the judges found that 18 veterans a day are committing suicide and that delays in treatment and disability benefits are so bad vets are being deprived of their constitutional rights . nbc's senior investigative correspondent lisa myers has more for us tonight.
>> reporter: 28-year-old clay hunt was a marine sniper , a veteran of iraq and afghanistan. he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
>> his ptsd was diagnosed after -- after being shot in iraq .
>> reporter: his mother, susan selky, says her son had to fight the va, sometimes waiting weeks to see a psychiatrist or get medication, and struggling for a year and a half to get more disability benefits. two months ago he took his own life.
>> if he had had better care, he maybe would not be dead today.
>> reporter: the blistering appeals court ruling found that many vets who survived roadside bombs and lost limbs are now losing their battle to get care they were promised. the court accused the va of unchecked incompetence and ordered reforms noting that 85,000 vets languish on waiting lists for mental health care. the seriously depressed sometimes wait more than eight weeks to see a mental health professional . the court said getting disability benefits to live on now can take an average of more than four years. almost 1,500 vets have died while awaiting their appeals.
>> the court has told va to stop the delays and stop the denials. too many veterans are dying waiting for va to give care.
>> the va would not comment on the ruling or on whether it will appeal, but officials say they have placed high priority on reducing backlog and improving mental health care. the other day clay hunt finally got paperwork approving an increase in his disability benefits. five weeks after his death.
>> they go and give their all for their country, and then they have to come back and fight for their benefits. it's ridiculous. it's just ridiculous. we're a better people than that.
>> reporter: hunt's mother says she hopes this court ruling provides are desperate vets with hope. lisa myers , nbc news, washington.