Do Veterans Game the VA Disability System?

Uncle-Sam-PTSDDuring my morning ritual of coffee and checking for daily updates on the Department of Veterans Affairs most recent follies, I came across an article published in 2005 by the British Journal of Psychiatry.  The particular search terms were a result of recent conversations I had with a number of veterans participating in the University of Texas-Dallas Brain Health Center study on post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

The British Journal of Psychiatry results were interesting but marginally confusing.  The VA Operations and Research Department allowed the Brits access to the service records of 100 Vietnam veterans claiming PTSD.  Their findings were astounding.  Of those 100 veterans who were still receiving treatment in the early ‘90s, only 41 percent actually had combat exposure and only 7 percent received medals for valor.  The other 53 percent claiming PTSD had never experienced combat and 6 percent were never deployed at all.

Those who malinger on the Social Security Disability program are shaming those who are truly in pain and allowing taxpayers to foot the bill.  I understand a certain amount of political risk is associated with second guessing veterans, but recent Congressional Research Service and RAND studies found that anywhere between 1 percent and 60 percent of returning OIF/OEF service-members could qualify for PTSD because of inconsistencies in the screening process.  This could potentially amount to billions of dollars paid to those who are simply looking to defraud the government to make their life a little easier.

See, this is where you start to disagree…that wee bit of misguided “responsibility to those who served” creeping into your head.  I am all for compensating soldiers. But over the last few years the VA has received a 40 percent budget increase, and a 2,000 percent increase in claim backlogs.  PTSD claims account for only 15 percent of the total, but result in more than 35 percent of entitlement disbursements.

The number of free-riders is telling of our society.  Thank you for your service, but if you don’t have PTSD, get out of the line so someone who is hurting can receive the compensation they deserve.

Comments (16)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Penn says:

    This is the case not just with the VA, but with all social programs in the U.S. If you do not need the services, get out of line. People who abuse the help that is offered is the reason many people want to rein back entitlement spending.

  2. Joe Barnett says:

    A disquieting study, given that noncombatants claiming PTSD have been included in clinical trials that have affected the development of PTSD treatment.
    From the study, it looks like some of these individuals were seeking to establish their disability in order to qualify for Social Security or VA disability payments.

  3. Yo Yo Ma says:

    I feel like there will always be people who will look for ways to exploit the system, and if 1 percent and 60 percent of returning OIF/OEF service-members could qualify for PTSD because of inconsistencies, there is a big void for many to exploit.

  4. Lali Fa says:

    I quote you: the last few years the VA has received a 40 percent budget increase, and a 2,000 percent increase in claim backlogs. PTSD claims account for only 15 percent of the total, but result in more than 35 percent of entitlement disbursements.

    If this is the case, it seems like the VA is gaming on opportunities too. They are gaming on the good will of people to get more funding, but doing a sub-par job of taking care of our veterans!

  5. Wasif says:

    I want you to do a blog post about the mental health challenges facing returning soldiers. I know 60 minute did a coverage on this, it is called the Invisible Wounds.

  6. Kyle Buckley says:

    There’s a publication on mental health and veteran suicide rates forthcoming. I cite the RAND “Invisible Wounds” study in it.

    Veterans are little more than political currency. Thankfully most people support the troops, so no politician could survive accusations of acting against vets.

    Joe makes an excellent point. Another consideration is that pharmaceutical companies which furnish VA medications had no subjects with conflict specific trauma in clinical trials.

    Zoloft if a huge offender — many of the anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications have horrible side effects when combined with a traumatic brain injury.

  7. Gabriel Odom says:

    I wish we could say this only applies to the VA. I work in higher ed, and the number of students who qualify for “disabilities” funding is astounding! If your are even reasonably cunning, you can take a simple test to show that you have ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, low reading retention, or the like. If you score a certain way, you get access to a plethora of different funding options and ther amenties (longer test taking time, free personal tutors, a personal note taker, and others). I understand that some of these students need this (I have a few with cognative or developmental disabilities), but the number of students who receive these benefits for no other reason than a simple exam is astounding! These “diagnoses” are not even clinically validated! This takes time and resources away from students who truly need them and gives them to anyone with the cunning to game a simple personality test. It’s awful.

  8. Gabriel Odom says:

    *their
    *amenities
    *cognitive

    Sorry, I was posting from my phone on my lunch break.

  9. Tom says:

    It’s quite sad we’ve engendered a system that allows some to “game the system” largely due to its inefficiencies.

  10. H. James Prince says:

    Hey, it’s free money, right?

  11. Cliff Britt says:

    H. James Prince has it exactly right. I am a disabled vet and have a lot of contact with other vets. Rather than looking on the VA as organization to help those in need, it is looked on by far too many vets as: I’ll take all I can get. cb

  12. Diego says:

    As a recent OIF and OEF combat vet, I hear my friends rehearse the things to say and claim. Certain “magic words” and things to claim that can’t be proven are standard. I have one acquaintance that makes me sick, he’s never seen combat and has 100% disability rating. Even worse he got help from a claim rep to help resubmit his claim repeatedly with adjustments to max out the rating.

    They have a gross entitlement mentality that makes me have a disdain towards many vets. I know another shady vet who has maxed out disability rating, max unemployment benefits, G.I. Bill, Section 8 housing, along with many other little freebies all at the same time. He also has never seen combat.

  13. Phillip Simmons says:

    Vietnam Veterans know the VA will never turn down an Agent Orange claim. Claiming PTSD 40 years after their discharge date is suspect.

  14. A V.A. Employee/ Irate U.S. Taxpayer! says:

    The V.A. Medical System’s Disability Evaluation/ Determination–(and Compensation)–Program is a ‘Badly-Broken’ and Extremely Unrealistic System! The ‘So-Called’ Disabilities are Most Often Ridiculous, Totally Unsubstantiated and are Medically Preposterous. ‘Life-Long’ Payments or Monetary Awards are Given with No System of Re-Evaluation or Re-Assessment. Many of the ‘So-Called’ Disabilities are Truly Self-Inflicted Due to ‘Chronically-Poor’ Lifestyle Choices.–(The Chronic, Pervasive Abuse of: Alcohol, Tobacco and (Licit/ Illicit) Drugs).

  15. OEF Veteran says:

    “A review of medals and
    badges showed that 92% of the sample
    had received some type of Vietnam service
    medal, indicating service in Vietnam during
    the war era: 7% had received a valorous
    medal (e.g. Bronze Star); 39% had received
    a non-valorous combat badge (e.g. Combat
    Infantryman’s Badge); 21% had received a
    Purple Heart, for combat wounds; and a
    combined total of 41% had received at
    least one type of combat medal or badge.”

    That is taken directly from the article you cited. How did you spin it,

    “Of those 100 veterans who were still receiving treatment in the early ‘90s, only 41 percent actually had combat exposure and only 7 percent received medals for valor. The other 53 percent claiming PTSD had never experienced combat and 6 percent were never deployed at all.”

    Back to the article,

    “A small, but potentially significant,
    percentage of these treatment-seekers
    (5%) appear to have made false claims
    of Vietnam service or military service
    altogether”

    How did you sin it?

    “This could potentially amount to billions of dollars paid to those who are simply looking to defraud the government to make their life a little easier.”

    Ok, now to my point. First you used an article study on Vietnam veterans as “proof” for your claim and then generalized it not just to Vietnam veterans but somehow made the connection between that study and OEF/OIF veterans. But wait: (back to to the article)

    “All the individuals investigated in our study
    were drawn from one Veterans Affairs
    Medical Center PTSD clinic. Thus, the
    generalis-ability of these results is unknown,
    and there is a need for multi-site replication
    studies”

    So how can you even generalize what this study found, when the authors and creators of this study says that you cannot generalize these results?

    Now consider this. You said:

    “but recent Congressional Research Service and RAND studies found that anywhere between 1 percent and 60 percent of returning OIF/OEF service-members could qualify for PTSD because of inconsistencies in the screening process.”

    But the links provided say:

    In order to understand the limitations of the data presented in this report, it is helpful to
    understand their sources. The VA identifies PTSD and substance use disorders by searching VA
    administrative data for diagnosis codes associated with specific conditions (e.g., 309.81 for
    PTSD). These codes are entered into veterans’ electronic medical records by clinicians, in the
    normal course of evaluation and treatment.
    The data provided by the VA should be interpreted in light of at least three limitations, each of
    which is discussed below.

    First, some conditions may be overstated, because veterans with diagnosis codes for a condition
    might not have the condition, as a result of provisional diagnoses or noncurrent diagnoses. A
    provisional diagnosis code may be entered into a veteran’s electronic medical record when further
    evaluation is required to confirm the diagnosis. A diagnosis may be noncurrent when a veteran
    who had a condition in the past no longer has it. In either case, the code remains in the veteran’s
    electronic medical record.

    Second, some conditions may be understated, because veterans who have a condition might not
    be diagnosed (and therefore might not have the diagnosis code in their records), if they choose
    not to disclose their symptoms. Veterans might not want to disclose information that would lead
    to a diagnosis of mental illness. Veterans have reported not wanting to disclose trauma for fear
    that that they will not be believed, that others will think less of them, that they will be
    institutionalized or stigmatized, or that their careers will be jeopardized, among other reasons.24
    Also, veterans using VA health care services may receive additional services outside the VA,
    without the knowledge of the department.

    Third, the numbers provided by the VA should not be extrapolated to all OEF/OIF veterans, or to
    the broader veteran population, because OEF/OIF veterans using VA health care are not
    representative of all OEF/OIF veterans or the broader veteran population. Veterans who use VA
    health care may differ from those who do not, in ways that are not known. Potential differences
    include (among other characteristics) disability status, employment status, and distance from a VA
    medical facility

    Again they were stating concerns that not all OEF/OIF veterans are being treated correctly, but you make it seem they are claiming fraud.

    However (again from link provided):

    “Early evidence suggests that the psychological toll of these deployments — many involving prolonged exposure to combat-related stress over multiple rotations — may be disproportionately high compared with the physical injuries of combat. In the face of mounting public concern over post-deployment health care issues confronting OEF/OIF veterans, several task forces, independent review groups, and a Presidential Commission have been convened to examine the care of the war wounded and make recommendations. Concerns have been most recently centered on two combat-related injuries in particular: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. With the increasing incidence of suicide and suicide attempts among returning veterans, concern about depression is also on the rise.

    They are addressing that FACT that depression and suicide rates are increasing and that proper treatment of PTSD and other mental related illness’s are under-reported or not reported correctly. This was stated not to undermine the veterans looking for treatment but to provide better care for those who went through something that obviously you have never gone through.

    I am an OEF veteran that was attached to an Army infantry unit convoying around 28 small remote locations providing satellite networks in place of radio line of sight networks. I saw things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I also been to the bigger air bases in Afghanistan and understand the fear and anxiety of being attacked by mortars, rockets, etc…

    When you are not even in a combat role (clearing houses, raids, etc..) you still are in a hostile environment where your life could easily be gone at any given random moment. Take the instance of one of my buddies who was staying at a larger base (seemingly safe right?) and he stepped out in the middle of the night to take a smoke (usually getting his bunk buddy up to smoke also, but didn’t want to disturb him this time) and while he was smoking a mortar hit their building killing his buddy instantly. You are telling me that guy has no right to claim PTSD or trauma? He wasn’t classified in a combat mission (neither was his buddy). So from your logic then the buddy that got killed shouldn’t have received the purple heart either huh? Because he didn’t die clearing houses? What about all of those who just simply convoyed and hit an IED? Should they not be able to claim that they lived through a traumatic experience and for some, messed them up mentally as they watched body parts blow up in front of them? O but because they weren’t clearing houses and on a specific combat mission they don’t deserve treatment and compensation for what they went through?

    You disgust me. You obviously didn’t fully comprehend the links and article that you cited as your defense to write what you did here. Maybe you should check your intent, because the generalization you made was careless and incorrect.

Leave a Reply



If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.