|A federal appeals court on Monday reversed its demand that the Veterans Affairs Department dramatically overhaul its mental health care system.
A special 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that any such changes need to be ordered by Congress or the president.
The 10-1 ruling reversed an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same court.
The May 2011 ruling had ordered the VA to ensure that suicidal vets are seen immediately, among other changes. It found the VA's "unchecked incompetence" in handling the flood of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health claims was unconstitutional.
The new decision said courts are powerless to implement the fixes sought by two veterans groups that filed the lawsuit against the VA in 2007. The lawsuits alleged that hundreds of thousands of veterans had to wait an average of four years to fully receive the mental health benefits owed them.
"There can be no doubt that securing exemplary care for our nation's veterans is a moral imperative," Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the majority. "But Congress and the president are in far better position" to decide whether and what changes need to be done.