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 (15)

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  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:


    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).

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