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Thieves and Liars: PTSD Fakers and the VA

If for some reason you’re under the mistaken impression that faking PTSD is a victimless crime, let us give you a strong correction: Not only does it display a complete lack of honor and integrity, it also hurts a ton of people–none more so than the legitimate sufferers of PTSD. Read on to find out exactly how out of hand the fakery has gotten, and what we propose should be done about it.
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Thieves and Liars: PTSD Fakers and the VA

Chris Hernandez

A few months ago, a woman sitting next to me on an airplane started a friendly conversation. When she found out I was an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, she asked about something that was obviously bothering her.

“My daughter’s friend is an Iraq veteran,” she said. “He wasn’t in combat, but he’s disabled by PTSD. He was a medic, and he says the enemy was always trying to capture medics. On missions they wouldn’t let him out of the Humvee because he was in so much danger. He says his PTSD is from being scared of being captured.”

The woman was almost embarrassed to tell the story. Her expression betrayed obvious doubts about this veteran’s “trauma”. But like most of the public, she didn’t feel justified questioning any PTSD claim, from any veteran, for any reason. When I told her I never heard of medics being targeted more than anyone else (especially since they don’t dress or look different than other troops), that riding in a Humvee in Iraq isn’t so scary as to disable someone for life, and that he was probably milking the system for free money, she seemed relieved. She suspected the same thing, but didn’t feel right saying so.

It’s fair to say most of us combat veterans have suspicions about PTSD claims. We’ve been frustrated by stories of horrible, disabling PTSD from people we know were never in combat. We’ve heard of troops coming home from deployments to peaceful countries, never hearing a shot fired, but immediately claiming PTSD. We know that in the War on Terror only a small percentage of troops actually faced an enemy, and many of those relished the experience. We have the nagging feeling most PTSD claims are more about free money than healing and recovery. Some of us have become so skeptical, we automatically throw a mental BS flag when we hear someone talk about having PTSD.

But most of us doubters aren’t psychologists. We’re not trained. We don’t know what transpires between a veteran claiming PTSD and his VA counselor. We know PTSD doesn’t require combat experience, and understand not everyone has the same resistance to trauma, but still wonder if veterans really get disability payments for being yelled at in basic training. We hear assurances that PTSD disability isn’t handed out like candy, that claimed trauma is investigated rather than blindly accepted, and that the “tiny number” of scammers are quickly identified and booted from the system. Maybe our suspicion that the VA PTSD system is corrupt and overrun with liars, scammers and thieves is off base.

If our suspicions were confirmed, that would be pretty depressing. Know what would be even more depressing? Being told by two VA psychologists that the system is even more corrupt and full of liars, scammers and thieves than we thought.

Not long ago I wrote an article about two “combat” vets and their attempts to paint veterans as pitiful victims of PTSD. A VA psychologist read the article and contacted me. He can’t speak publicly because he still works at a large VA center, but I verified his identity and work. I’ll call him John.

John has treated over 700 veterans for PTSD. He estimates 75% of his patients are either outright fabricating trauma, or twisting benign experiences into supposed trauma in order to qualify for disability benefits. “Of all patients referred to me in 2015 for PTSD evaluation, 25% (estimated generously) had a real trauma-related condition,” John wrote. “And the majority of the remainder were obviously feigning PTSD symptoms.”

Few of John’s patients were actual combat veterans. “Only 10% had documentation (CIB/CAB/CAR/Purple Heart/Bronze Star, etc.) indicating substantial combat exposure,” John said. “Yet just over half were receiving VA disability payments for PTSD. All who weren’t yet on disability for PTSD were applying for it, and most on disability were appealing to increase their disability rating.”

Their claimed “trauma” often wasn’t what most people would reasonably consider traumatic. “The majority who deployed to combat zones didn’t experience combat but were stressed from being near it, fighting with other GIs during deployments, knowing someone who was killed, or being on a base when a mortar round or rocket hit somewhere on or near the base,” John said. “Those who never deployed claimed such traumas as basic training accidents or other accidents on base (sometimes car wrecks, broken bones, getting in fights, riot duty), or feeling bullied by drill sergeants or supervisors.”

Often, their claimed symptoms or suffering are blatantly contradictory. For example, they cheerfully recount events they claim traumatized them at the time and emotionally cripple them now. In one of the most ridiculous contradictions, John observed “They also frequently wear military paraphernalia while saying they can’t be around things reminding them of the military.”

This man received over $200,000 for not being a SEAL, not serving in combat, and not being disabled
This veteran received over $200k for not being a SEAL, not being in combat, and not having PTSD

John sees a huge difference between PTSD therapy within the VA, and treatment outside. “In every other clinical setting, PTSD is considered pretty easily treatable with a relatively short duration of exposure therapy. But in the VA, it’s disabling for life. We pay people to be sick, and to stay sick. If you wanted to create a perfect way to keep people from getting better, you’d invent the VA compensation system.”

And he’s frustrated nearly to the point of disgust with the VA’s willingness to turn almost any claimed “trauma” into a monthly check for life. “People experience trauma every day. We’ve all had car wrecks or near misses. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve been crime victims. In normal life, we recover from those things. But in the VA, if a rocket landed a kilometer away and didn’t hit anyone, you’re disabled forever.”

John says many PTSD claimants have been coached to inflate those rocket attacks, and other similar events, into lifelong trauma by Veteran Services Organizations (VSOs). “Some of the more naïve vets will tell me they were coached,” John said. “They’ll say, ‘The guy I talked to said to tell you I have these specific symptoms, and to make sure you write them down.’ Several vets have told us that when they talk to VSO reps, the first question is, ‘Have you gotten your PTSD yet?’”

The head of one VSO has argued that anyone deployed to any war zone , in any capacity, should be presumed to have suffered enough trauma to have PTSD
The head of one VSO has argued that anyone deployed to any war zone , in any capacity, should be presumed to have suffered enough trauma to have PTSD

In addition to taking VSO advice to lie or exaggerate, veterans are apparently sharing advice about what specific stories to tell to be diagnosed with PTSD. “We’ll get several veterans coming in separately and telling the exact same story about how they were traumatized. Sometimes the stories don’t make sense at all, like Desert Storm veterans claiming their convoys were hit by IEDs on convoys to Baghdad.”

John can’t give specifics, but two Army veterans who served during a particular war told stories of being traumatized by their experiences at a notorious attack. However, the attack they claimed to have witnessed happened years after their war and discharge, and involved a different service. Imagine a World War II veteran who was discharged in 1945 claiming he was traumatized by his experiences at the Pusan Perimeter in Korea in 1950; that’s how stupid this lie was.

“I told one of those veterans he couldn’t have been there, because his DD-214 showed he wasn’t even in the military when it happened. He stopped talking, glared at me, grabbed his DD-214 and walked out.”

So he was kicked out of the VA for malingering, right? Of course not. “In my notes I wrote that the veteran was clearly malingering, and could not have been at his claimed qualifying event,” John said. “But the evaluator either didn’t bother to read my notes, or wanted to be nice to the veteran. So he’s on 100% disability for PTSD, even after I caught him making up trauma.”

At this point, I know what some readers are saying: “This is nonsense. I’m not going to believe a bunch of stories about VA scams from some anonymous source.” Fair enough.

I’d like to introduce my second source, Dr. Christopher Frueh (pronounced “Free”). Dr. Frueh was a VA psychologist for fifteen years, from 1991 to 2006. He was quoted in a 2014 LA Times article about PTSD malingering (which mentioned, among other things, a veteran receiving PTSD disability for falling and breaking her leg while walking to the DFAC), and has spoken out about massive fraud in the system for years.

The VA wasn’t too happy with Dr. Frueh. “I kept getting pushback for what I was saying about PTSD fraud,” Dr. Frueh said. “The VA even assigned a handler to monitor everything I said during interviews. Then they told me I couldn’t do interviews at all. Eventually, after fifteen years of trying to fix the problems and running into a brick wall, I left the VA.”

A big part of the VA’s anger at Frueh came from his accusation that the VA engages in “collusive lying” with veterans obviously faking PTSD. “Some veterans tell obvious lies, their documents don’t support their claimed trauma, their behavior doesn’t match their reported symptoms, their psychologist reports them as malingering, and the VA approves disability benefits anyway,” Frueh said. “Psychologists are ordered not to question even the most egregious fabrications. Nobody is willing to stand up to the uproar that would come from both political parties, and from VSOs, if we acknowledged what everyone already knows: a lot of veterans are lying about PTSD to get free money.”

Malingering causes real, measurable problems. Verified veterans with verified problems have stopped coming to treatment, especially group therapy, because they don’t want to be associated with the obvious posers. VA treatment programs can’t be measured for effectiveness because almost every patient, whether they’re getting better or not, claims their symptoms are worsening until their rating reaches 100%. According to one study, 82% of those who max out on disability then stop attending treatment. If their problem is so terrible they’re completely disabled, why suddenly stop getting help?

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“The VA doesn’t want to face this,” Dr. Frueh said. “We’re employing very expensive PTSD treatments which our own stats say are ineffective. From clinical studies outside the VA, we know those programs actually are effective. But within the VA, either these proven programs don’t work or patients are skewing the stats by lying about their symptoms. The VA doesn’t want to acknowledge that the treatment works, but a huge number of patients are lying.” Dr. Frueh discussed that problem in a 2014 Psychology Today article: “Another open secret among clinical trial investigators is that veterans often acknowledge to researchers that the treatment has helped them, but ask them not to document in the record for fear of losing disability.”

As far back as 2005, Dr. Frueh was studying PTSD fakers; that year he and several others published a study of 100 Vietnam veterans claiming PTSD. The results of Dr. Frueh’s study closely mirrored John’s experiences a decade later.

Of the 100 (alleged) veterans Dr. Frueh studied, all claimed to have been in combat, all were seeking treatment for Vietnam combat-related PTSD, and 94 were receiving disability. However,

  • only 41 had objective documentation of combat service;
  • 32 had served in Vietnam but their military records showed no indication of combat;
  • 20 had served in the Vietnam War era, but had no clear documentation showing service in Vietnam;
  • 3 were found to have served in the military, but not during the Vietnam War; and
  • 2 had no documentation of military service whatsoever.

The study grouped the veterans as “combat”, “unclear combat”, or “no combat”. Not surprisingly, many veterans without verified combat experience claimed intense combat experiences, including being wounded, committing atrocities and even being POWs.

For the Vietnam ‘no combat’ group, 22 out of 32 reported specific combat stressors such as seeing other soldiers wounded or killed in action, firefights, witnessing or committing atrocities, receiving fire from rockets, mortars or snipers, and long-range reconnaissance patrols behind enemy lines… Seven individuals from the Vietnam ‘unclear combat’ and ‘no combat’ groups reported being wounded in combat, although none had a Purple Heart in their military records. Two individuals reported prisoner-of-war captivity in Vietnam, and five reported ‘classified’ combat activities in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos, although none of these experiences was documented in military records and all were reported by individuals classified in the Vietnam ‘no combat’ group. Further, these individuals were not on an accepted registry of repatriated prisoners of war.

One actual Vietnam veteran who helped with Dr. Frueh’s study was B.G. Burkett, author of the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of its Heroes and its History. Burkett has investigated thousands of stolen valor and VA fraud cases, and inspired a U.S. Attorney in Washington State to launch “Operation Stolen Valor” which caught several frauds including Jesse MacBeth. MacBeth claimed to have slaughtered dozens of Iraqi civilians and “hung them from hooks in mosques”; he became a celebrity of the anti-war movement, represented Iraq Veterans Against the War, and his lies were even translated into Arabic and distributed in the Middle East. Of course, not a single anti-war activist seems to have checked MacBeth’s records, which showed he was kicked out of basic training after 44 days (and none thought it necessary to examine his ridiculous “Army Ranger”/Airsoft clown photo).

This guy even tricked Iraq Veterans Against the War

When MacBeth was arrested he was in the process of using doctored documents to apply for PTSD disability. According to Wikipedia, he received over $10,000 in unspecified VA benefits. Several other military fakers were caught in the same investigation; six of those “disabled veterans” scammed the VA out of almost $280,000. All had fabricated their combat service, and two had never even served in the military. No, the VA doesn’t always verify claims, and doesn’t always catch liars.

In his almost thirty years of chasing down scammers and thieves, Burkett has found thousands of veterans committing fraud, police chiefs who fabricated combat service, multiple VA employees stealing money (he knows of one woman who stole fourteen million dollars by resurrecting deceased vets on paper, filing disability claims, then opening joint accounts with direct deposit), and numerous senior members of VSOs who had milked the system with fake claims for decades. In Burkett’s opinion, “We can’t get the VA to reform the system because so many people in the VA, both employees and patients, have a vested interest in keeping it corrupt. And if we push for reform, both parties will fight it because they don’t want anyone to think they aren’t ‘standing up for veterans’. The VSOs will also fight it, because many people in the VSOs are fakers themselves.”

So How Do We Fix This?

I’m a Soldier. As a Soldier, I’ve been taught not just to identify a problem, but to propose a solution. So I asked John, Dr. Frueh and Mr. Burkett for solutions.

John answered, “The number of veterans so emotionally disabled by combat they can’t work is miniscule compared to the number of veterans with treatable trauma-related conditions who don’t need disability compensation. Unfortunately, both these groups are dwarfed by the huge number of charlatans gaming the system. The fakers feed the stereotype of the emotionally crippled combat veteran, which makes people assume all combat veterans have PTSD, which makes life harder for the majority of war veterans who lead normal lives without being obnoxious, insincere blowhards. The enemy, then, is this stereotype, which can be fought by combat veterans who aren’t on disability, and by mental health experts who work with combat veterans to give good information to the public and make those promoting the stereotype uncomfortable.

I also would like to see journalists consulting with experts in order to vett and sanity-check their pieces. Veterans who suffered combat-related PTSD but successfully completed treatment without disability compensation, and who don’t identify as ‘sick’, would be invaluable fact-checkers for journalists. And while they’re at it, journalists from left-leaning media outlets might try to focus their investigative stories on the greater proportion of veterans who are thoughtful, healthy, and nuanced compared to those peddling the ‘damaged and victimized veteran’ narrative.”

Dr. Frueh’s suggestions were more technical and clinical. Two of them were to require deeper military records reviews of all VA Compensation and Pension applications, and to deny financial benefits to veterans identified as malingering or overreporting symptoms.

He added, “Better yet, reform the VA disability system entirely. Instead of paying veterans to be sick and giving them disincentives to work, help them get back on their feet. Give them all the mental health care they need, give them an immediate cash payments to pay their bills for a couple of weeks, link them up with employment services such as ‘Hire Heroes USA,’ give them access to $25K to start a business or get certificate training in some field, and then re-evaluate them. If they continue to be disabled, give them a modest disability payment for two years, but give them financial incentives to get a job and reenter society.”

Mr. Burkett’s solution was much more succinct:

“Audit one VA hospital. Just one. Don’t announce it, just pick one and quietly check everyone’s records, all the employees and patients. You’ll find so much fraud you’ll be shocked. And that will be a good indication of what’s happening in every VA hospital across the country.”

And here’s my solution:

Never withhold mental health care from a veteran. Never. Combat vet or not, honorably discharged or not, even if it’s a verified poser, give them the treatment they need. But don’t give every vet money. Save the money for the real veterans, with real problems, who need real help. Once the promise of easy money is gone, PTSD posers and fakers will stop flooding the system. If the system isn’t flooded with thousands upon thousands of liars and scammers, the notorious “VA backlog” for PTSD patients will disappear, which will make it easier for real patients to get treatment.

And that’s the entire point: to make sure the deserving get the help they need.

Every time I write about PTSD fraud or abuses – every time – I’m deluged by the same angry comments. “PTSD is real! You’re the reason vets don’t get help! All veterans are heroes! ‘Murica!” Yes, PTSD is real. Nothing I’ve ever written, here or anywhere else, even hints it’s not. No, I’m not the reason vets don’t get help; I’m not clogging the system with false claims, or stealing money from the finite resource pool, or convincing the public that combat veterans are unstable lunatics who’ll snap at the sound of a bottle rocket. And unfortunately, as the massive VA fraud shows, not all veterans are heroes.

But we should be. We should be the most honor-driven group of people in America. We should stand tall with the knowledge that our commitment to our country wasn’t hypothetical. We should be towers of strength, the quiet but proven men and women our fellow citizens turn to in times of crisis.

I think most actual combat veterans are those towers of strength. But that strength is being sapped by a human wave assault of liars, posers and thieves who see a PTSD diagnosis as free money. The public’s perception of rock-steady combat veterans is giving way to a fraud-driven caricature: the broken, pitiful, victimized veteran, so traumatized we can’t handle fireworks or the sight of a gun, dependent on a government handout, liable to explode in irrational violence or commit suicide at the slightest provocation.

Veterans who live by the mantra “My country was at war, I joined the military, I knew what I was doing and I’m better for it” seem to be dwindling into a veritable lone platoon, defending a battered perimeter from an army of frauds. Those frauds, with their battle cry of “Get money!”, feed off a supply chain of endless government handouts, misguided public sympathy, and journalists eager to swallow any “pitiful veteran” story without question or research. But we few defenders within the perimeter have something the attackers don’t: an actual sense of honor, born from real, not fabricated, service to our nation.

And it’s up to us to not just defend our position, but to fix bayonets and charge. Because if we don’t stand up to the liars and thieves poisoning our generation of veterans, the same way they poisoned the Vietnam generation, in a few short decades we’ll see respect for veterans disappear altogether. And it won’t be because real combat vets, or even real PTSD sufferers, lost it. It’ll happen because fake ones sold it for a monthly handout.

CH


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www.breachbangclear.com_site_images_Chris_Hernandez_Author_BreachBangClear4Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-ClearHe is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.

 

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Mad Duo Chris
Chris Hernandez may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LITE writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley, Proof of Our Resolve and Safe From the War. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog.

20 Comments

  1. Chris,

    Thank you for the article. Light is too rarely shed on this topic so any little piece helps with changing public opinion on Veteran disability compensation fraud.

    Nonetheless, I think your proposed solutions lack the context necessary to understand why they would or wouldn’t work and further solutions must be identified, some of which I will propose:

    1) The role of the media: The media has little incentive as a whole to publish reports about Veterans malingering or misrepresenting their disabilities. I agree that journalists should vet their stories but editors and publishers have little to gain from stories that paint a negative picture of Veterans. Those stories don’t sell to the American public and the media is as risk-averse as any to losing consumers due to negative push back on stories like this. Until there is a significant demographic that is open to these sorts of stories, few outlets will pursue them. Sadly, this is not specific to the left or right wing, as the aversion to Veteran fraud is bi-partisan. The American public is more than willing to believe that fraud of this nature is the exception and will negatively react to a media they already perceive as biased reporting on it. The comments on that LA times are a good example of this, where the article is frequently perceived as anti-military or anti-veteran.

    2) The role of the VA: The VA is in the most conflicted position in this mess. While it is their job to determine whether or not a Veteran deserves a disability rating, they make that determination based on the laws passed by congress. Since the GWOT started, these laws have become less and less restrictive on what evidence is required to grant certain disabilities, particularly PTSD, to the point where the allowance of “free money” as you described is largely out of the hands of the VA, as they simply execute the laws are directed by congress. A big reason these laws have changed is the push back from reports that the VA was too restrictive on these issues, similar to the Agent Orange presumptives. Further the VA is a federal agency that answers directly to the president and indirectly to congress. Both the legislative and executive branches have no incentive to pursue increased disability claim fraud exposure, because the public would react negatively to such an agenda. Again, this is a bi-partisan shortcoming that unlike other disability compensation issues, such as social security disability compensation fraud and the republicans, does not have a strong voice in the political sector. VA’s hand are tied in this issue because their bosses do not want to push this issue and their ability to identify fraud themselves has been reduced significantly by the law. VA is not committing the fraud here, Veterans are.

    To your specific point on reducing benefits to identified malingerers: the VA is not allowed to do this by law, even if there was a strong desire by VA leadership to do so. Only congress can make that change.

    In my opinion the most effective way of reducing the amount of Veteran Disability Fraud is to change the public’s opinion on the matter so that they begin to doubt the Veterans involved. Without question, this will impact all Veteran negatively, but that is already the case where malingerers and stolen valor types paint the stereotype of the wounded hero. By inducing doubt into the American people, they will be forced to scrutinize Veterans as individuals more than before. Uneducated people will continue to stereotype but as whole I think we will be better off where Veterans are judged less on what’s perceived about them and more about the positive impact they have had and desire to have on this great society of ours.

    Changing that opinion will have to come from opinion leaders with the credentials and respect to face the natural backlash. You exemplify that standard and so I again commend you for this article. This message has to come from those who are strong Veterans where the mysticism of Veteran heroics come from. If they are not, they will always be scrutinized for not being representative. I know it’s not desirable to wear that title of a true combat veteran hero, but at least the guys you served with will always know you were just a man trying to do the right thing for yourself, your family, and those same guys you served with.

    1. I agree, it is vital that regular-guy veterans stand up and fight back against the “damaged veteran” stereotype. Changing public perception is a tall order though, and unfortunately more veterans get more money from the traumatized veteran myth than from the reality of regular guys living regular lives.

      What do you think step one of moving forward should be?

  2. I was in the Marine Corps and I was in the army. went to Vietnam twice. combat with the Marines no combat with the army. it took me almost 30 years to go to the VA in 1996I had been treated . in 1976 I had a real bad anxiety episode. I had it before but this time it wouldn’t go away. went to the doctor I could not sleep or do anything I wanted to kill myself because it wouldn’t go away. I didn’t think of Vietnam they tried to tell me the doctors civilian doctors. that I have the Vietnam syndrome that I should go to the VA. I said I would not do that because I don’t want to be a loser like the other ones. so I found a doctor that would treat me said it was just an anxiety disorder and I was treated for it for years. finally1996 I was being treated by the Navythe person that was treated me was an ex Navy corpsman and he was a social worker now and he told me to go to the DAV and let them send me to the VA. I have been in the hospital numerous times with the VA and not the VA with this anxiety and depression disorder they say now it’s PTSD.I do feel bad about claiming PTSD but something really took me downmy whole life I’m still on psychotropic drugs . there’s still a lot of guilt about Vietnam what I did there and also guilt about the VA.but I do believe nowthat the really is PTSDI really wish I didn’t have it but I do

    1. Robert,

      I don’t hold any ill will toward anyone who really served, really did something, and really needs help. If you need help, get it and don’t feel bad; you earned it. My essay was about the liars and fakers, not about real veterans with real problems.

  3. I remember my evaluation appoint and first (and last) VA appointment ever. I went to see the Psyche lady because I was having serious anger issues, since before I got out. I’d randomly just get angry as shit at nothing, and had a superbly short fuse. I told the lady everything, and she’s like ” hmm, okay, your good. I don’t think you have a problem. ”

    2 months later I found an anger management group on my own dime, and now 2 years later I am actually good. The most valuable lesson I learned is to hell with the VA. They don’t exist to make Veteran’s better, they just exist to suck and dole out money.

    1. My few trips to the VA were actually pretty positive. Nobody tried to convince me I had PTSD, although they did surprise the hell out of me by telling me they thought I was suffering from depression (which, right after Afghanistan, I was). The only time medication was mentioned was when the doctor asked if I was having trouble sleeping; of course I was, I had worked nights for almost my entire adult life and had just come back from a deployment where I was on a bunch of nighttime missions. I refused sleeping pills, and nobody brought it up again.

      When I first registered at the OIF/OEF clinic a social worker asked if I was seeking compensation, and I said no. Maybe that’s why nobody pushed me toward PTSD?

  4. Excellent article Chris! It is thoroughly researched, balanced, direct, and well-written.

    Many professionals who work with veterans, such as:

    – C&P (compensation and pension) examiners, the VA psychologists and psychiatrists who conduct the PTSD evaluations with vets who have filed a claim for disability compensation due to post traumatic stress disorder;

    – attorneys (it’s great that the attorney wrote to you);

    – some veterans service officers;

    – Veterans Benefits Administration adjudicators (the VA employees who make the ultimate decisions regarding service connection and disability ratings)

    have been concerned about this problem for many years, and have tried to work within the system to achieve the goal you articulated: “Save the money for the real veterans, with real problems, who need real help.”

    Unfortunately, when the Department of Veterans Affairs, the President, Senators, or Congressional Representatives propose changes to improve the system, the veterans service organizations and a very vocal group of self-appointed ‘veterans advocates’ quickly assail them with accusations of being “anti-veteran”, “unpatriotic”, and uncaring. And the implied threat always exists–“If you move forward with this proposal, we will get you fired, or oppose you the next time you’re up for election.”

    Consequently, most VA managers bend over backwards to appease veterans who file disability benefits claims, and they undermine or punish VA staff who try to implement meaningful reform.

    A C&P psychologist wrote a superb article about the environment at VA, which describes the situation better than anything I’ve ever seen:

    —–

    Russo, A. C. (2014). Assessing veteran symptom validity. Psychological Injury and Law, 7(2), 178-190. doi:10.1007/s12207-014-9190-2 | http://bit.ly/vet-symptom-validity

    Quote from the article: “This article identifies the institutional and veteran-based threats to the accurate assessment of veteran truthfulness, with suggestions on managing the former and discerning the latter. Starting with a description of the conflicting ethical-moral and utilitarian-political forces inherent in the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), this article describes how these forces act to undermine the accurate assessment of veteran symptoms via both institution-wide systemic practices and local medical center-specific pressures towards collusive lying.”

    —–

    A VA doctor recently asked a great question on my blog:

    “When will realistic reform occur within the VA disability benefits system?“

    My answer: We will see meaningful improvements only when enough veterans push the veterans service organizations (VSOs) to advocate for reform. Currently the VSOs reflexively oppose such reforms, presumably because that is what they think their members want.
    http://www.ptsdexams.com/advice-for-veterans-ptsd-military-sexual-trauma-mst-cp-exams-male-survivors/#comment-66

    —–

    Here are some other great resources, in addition to what you mentioned in your post:

    Gade, D. M. (2013). A better way to help veterans. National Affairs, 16(Summer), 53-69. http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20130620_Gade_Indiv.pdf

    About the author: LTC Daniel M. Gade, earned a PhD in public policy from the University of Georgia, and teaches at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served as a platoon leader and a company commander in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, where he was wounded in action twice and decorated for valor. Despite losing his right leg at the hip, he won his category at Ironman Arizona in 2010, and in 2012 he completed the “Race Across America” cycling race, covering the 3,000 miles from San Diego to Annapolis in eight days as part of a four-man team.

    Quote from the article: “VA benefit policies … distort incentives and encourage veterans to live off of government support instead of working to their full capability. Adding to the problem is a culture of low expectations, fostered by the misguided understanding of “disability” upon which both federal policy and private philanthropy are often based. The result is that, for many veterans, a state of dependency that should be temporary instead becomes permanent. America’s veterans—particularly those with disabilities related to their service—deserve better. Because of the debt the nation owes these men and women, and because of the talent and experience they can contribute to our economy and society, both lawmakers and citizens should ensure that our efforts to support veterans do not undermine their recovery. By looking at the experiences of today’s veterans, and by examining the perverse incentives created by current policies and charitable practices, we can develop a support system more helpful to, and more worthy of, America’s defenders.”

    —–

    Editorial (2014, November 18). “Revamp VA disability benefits.” Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-veterans-disability-benefits-20141119-story.html

    Quote from the editorial: “This is a politically sensitive issue, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Many ailments, to be sure, are inextricably tied to service, from limbs lost in battle to post-traumatic stress to bodies weakened and eroded by the rigorous physical demands of being ready for combat. Yet disability payouts from the VA — $58 billion this year, up from $49 billion last year — also cover conditions that arise during a veteran’s time of service, even if the disability wasn’t incurred in the line of duty. Reform measures proposed by the Government Accountability Office and others — including basing disability on functional limitations rather than the extent of the injury, or offering one-time payouts rather than a lifetime of checks — have gone nowhere.”

    —–

    Huang, D. (2014, October 27). “VA disability claims soar: Some see higher fraud risk as more vets seek compensation, overloading doctors.” Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/va-disability-claims-soar-1414454034

    Quote from the article: In the past 10 years, the number of veterans receiving disability compensation for PTSD more than tripled, while recipients for mental disorders of all types more than doubled, the VA says. “When you’re doing that many cases, you can’t possibly go through them with any degree of comprehensiveness,” said Francis Gilbert, a psychologist who worked at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Medford, Ore., until 2011. Of the 919,500 disability applicants who had served in the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, 845,000—or nearly 92%—received compensation. When Dr. Gilbert’s office increased the number of VA examinations conducted each week as the caseload rose, he said he worked weekends to keep up without compromising quality. After taking early retirement three years ago, he said associates in the field have told him the problem has only worsened. The VA declined to comment on Mr. Gilbert’s caseload, citing privacy. According to a GAO report released in June, some examiners spent 15 minutes completing an evaluation that, if done correctly, should have taken multiple hours. A 2011 survey by the VA found that 85% of VA professionals “never” or “rarely” conducted additional tests designed to better diagnose PTSD.

    —–

    Thank you again for your bold, well-researched article, which emphasizes the honor, dignity, and integrity of the vast majority of our nation’s veterans, and the harm the charlatans are inflicting on the men and women who keep the rest of us safe, prosperous, and a life with liberty and freedom.

    And my hat’s off in respect and gratitude to you and all the vets who read and contribute to your blog. As we say in the South, “I appreciate y’all a whole bunch and then some.”

    All the Best,

    Mark

    1. Mark,

      Thanks, and I’ve been working my way through all that information. This problem is even bigger than I thought.

  5. Today I received this email from someone who’d like to remain anonymous.

    “I’m an attorney. I’m certified to practice before the VA and the Court of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims. I do neither forms of work anymore.

    It’s not just GWOT veterans. I’ve seen Cold War vets who have claimed to have PTSD from things that never happened or, if they did, it was proven that they weren’t there. I’ve seen Vietnam vets try to file claims for residual injuries from events they were not even in the same hemisphere for.

    I know that I’m supposed to just represent these guys, argue their cases and if they win, take my cut. But I can’t. I’m a vet, as well, and it just gripes me no end that these goldbricks are trying to game the system and collect benefits that they are not eligible for.

    If it were just one or two, I wouldn’t mind. But it’s not.

    Nothing I can do about it, but refuse to play.

    And, before you wonder if it’s just me, it’s not. I know other VA claims attorneys who have gotten out of the field for the same reasons.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Chris.”

    When lawyers are turning down easy money because they’re so disgusted with the frauds and liars, you know there’s a problem.

  6. Sir,
    I hope I don’t come across as a tin foil hat type, but the gentleman above who lost his leg hit it right on the money. This thing is designed to fail, and whether it is a Cloward Piven type scheme to break the system or it is meant to bring disgrace and general discredit to the veteran community in whole, it’ll be up to future generations to look back and definitively determine. The fact is that there are enough people with enough power in the places that matter, that this thing is simply not going to end any time soon.

    I hate to depart from the subject, but I’ve been saying for years that the post 9/11 GI Bill was designed by the same sort of people for equally nefarious reasons. Yes, it is great to give vets a path toward further education, and yes, that may have benefitted many individuals, including myself and my family as a result. Unfortunately, the price has come due in what we have left in our junior enlisted ranks (which has since grown up now to become our senior enlisted cadre). A lions share of the best and the brightest of the young, single and ambitious types finished one enlistment and understandably moved out to the civilian sector where they could pursue a degree and live comfortably on the GI Bill and a part time job. It just so happened to be passed right as we saw short cycled and extended combat deployments becoming a common thing for you guys in green over in Iraq (the bad war, they called it). In the end, who was left? The small segment of hard core and true believers, but an overwhelming population of what used to call the “welfare recipients wearing a uniform” crowd. Kinder, gentler, more entitled, more ready to cry to the EO office over any damn thing, and most significantly, MORE BUREAUCRATICALLY ORIENTED. The culture war in the military was lost a long time before, decades maybe even, but that was the final blow (in my opinion). Add to that the way the DOD budget is being squandered…. sheeeeit…. Give it another decade, and I would be amazed if the cancer won’t have killed our military altogether . Like I said, I hope this wasn’t too far off topic or deep in the tin foil hat territory, but I have zero doubt that the decline of our nation’s war fighting capabilities has been deliberately baked into the cake.

    V/R,

    MM1

    1. MM1,

      I have to call shenanigans on your assertion. The architect and primary driver behind the Post 9/11 GI Bill was Jim Webb, a highly decorated and wounded VN vet. When I interviewed him he talked about how important the GI Bill was to his father’s generation, and his belief that today’s veterans deserve the same opportunities.

      I get your concerns, and the VA does seem to thrive on failure. But today’s GI Bill is not a deliberate attempt to cripple our military.

  7. This is a very well thought out and written piece. I have been in agreement for 45 years. Helicopter gunship pilot in Vietnam. leg blown apart by a rocket misfire. pretty gory scene in the cockpit. other pilot (who was not injured) is drawing ptsd pay for the experience. I’m not. In fact this was not the most PTSD inducing event I experienced while there..by far. I draw retirement from the Army for loss of use of a limb. (40%). VA offered my 100% when I got out…(the alternative) and required an evaluation visit.

    Dr. at the Ann Arbor VA (after waiting in a long line in the hall) asked how I was doing and when I said “great”, he about took my head off. “NO ONE COMES IN HERE DOING GREAT”!… was his reply. at 21 years old, I came to the conclusion pretty much on the spot that the VA needed patient backlog to insure growth of budget and position for it’s staff. Much like any government agency. Vowed to never go back there. Got jobs with health care insurance.

    I’m sure I have exhibited symptoms of PTSD over the years.. (un explained flash anger etc..) but learned to manage it ( with the guidance of loving God and wife) without helping the VA build it’s empire by adding my presence. I view much of PTSD for combat vets having to do with the Adrenal gland being exercised to excess then becoming like a balloon that’s been blown up a thousand times… elasticity gone, it doesn’t take much to fully inflate…. keeping that in mind I’m able to avoid road rage : – ).

    My concern about pension payments for remaining uncured are that they rob these kids of initiative to be overcomers and contributors. Evaluations should be accomplished by a third party with no vested interest in the outcome. When the system does its own evaluations, it becomes a feeder for a larger system.

  8. The VA needs an enema, thousands of “administrators”, “doctors” and “counselors” need lengthy prison terms and to have all the money they have stolen stripped from them. And no, I have not interacted with the VA in 17 years and I f*cking well will NEVER have anything to do with them again. Period. Full stop. They are medically and professionally incompetent. And spare me the “Not all of them are!” line. Those that are competent and professional refuse to drive out the majority who are incompetent and willfully unprofessional. THAT is the gorilla in the corner. VA can only be fixed from the inside and it will never happen because too many people just go along to get along. Dr Frueh is the perfect example. He has been vilified for trying to fix what is clearly broken. Look at the current news reports on VA corruption, people don’t get fired for it, they get promotions and bonuses. The men and women who report and document the corruption are the ones fired, in spite of multiple state and Federal whistleblower protection laws.

    And now I will smash this soapbox and throw it in the wood burner. VA will never be cleaned up, veterans will continue to get f**ked. Just reading this has kicked my blood pressure up 10 points and I got to go to work.

  9. Beyond corruption and just plain idiotic management, I believe the VA is afraid of yet another round of bad publicity and Congressional pressure. “They” don’t want to be seen as shortchanging those combat veterans with those horrible experiences and memories (fake or not) because they, the VA, would once again be in very hot water. They WILL continue to hand out PTSD compensation like candy, despite denial of such, because it is in their best interest to do so.

    I believe that with PTSD not necessarily being a life threatening issue, and this country’s habit of being at war almost continuously, PTSD compensation for an ever growing “afflicted” population is going to one day bring the VA down, first financially, and afterward with a wholesale exodus-before-prosecution of chargeable members. All that would not happen, of course, if folks in power did stand up and make major changes NOW rather than later on the brink of collapse.

    It seems, however, that little is accomplished in Congress until the brink is reached for most issues.

  10. There is a ton of this going around. A lot of good people have it and I take nothing away from them but it is almost as though you have no credibility as a vet without it in both casual conversation and with the VA.
    Having PTSD isn’t a death blow to a normal life either. Many function fine. Refusal to allow it to breach and tear the fabric of your life is true strength. MTFU
    Get help if you need help. Be proud of ANY service you gave and help those that really need because that is what we were trained to do and believe.