In a 2-1 ruling by the 9th U.S.. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Veterans for Common Sense v. Eric K. Shinseki, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote Tuesday: "The United States Constitution confers upon veterans and their surviving relatives a right to the effective provision of mental healthcare and to the just and timely adjudication of their claims."
The court decreed the Department of Veterans Affairs must improve mental health services "system-wide" and change the disability adjudication process in its western regional office.
Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth say the VA was unprepared for the wave of traumatized troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, had inadequate services and let a huge backlog of compensation applications pile up.
Veterans for Common Sense said veterans had filed more than 550,000 disability claims.
"VA still has no plan. Tragically, the appeals court noted veterans died while waiting for VA to provide healthcare and benefits," the group's Paul Sullivan told The New York Times.
The Obama administration and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki took office promising to reduce military suicides and cut the disability backlog.