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 VA disability fraud has gotten, and what we propose should be done about veterans faking disability.
This article is from February 2016.
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.
Faking PTSD and VA Disability Fraud
If our suspicions about PTSD fakers were confirmed, it would be 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.”
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?’”
Just read this:
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 (veterans faking disability) 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?
“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 this book:
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).
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 PTSD VA disability fraud?
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 to PTSD VA disability fraud.
John answered, “The number of veterans so emotionally disabled by combat they can’t work is minuscule 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 vet 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 payment 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, veterans faking disability 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” seems 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 veterans faking disability sold it for a monthly handout.
I would say this article is part gatekeeping and part truthful. Gate Keeping in terms the writer is engaging in a military disability caste system in which certain veterans with certain MOS and certain locations should be included or excluded from VA disability. I think be being mostly truthful on the exaggerations part.
The Military is a “boys network” were there is ‘informal’ understanding not to go to medical after an injury-unless its absolutely ness . Any thing that is perceived as being weak, helpless is frowned upon. For example, I had brutal bout of pneumonia/asthma in boot camp. But the sergeants made “life hard” for ppl that went on sick . In fact any male dominated environment there exist an un written rule to “toughen up” man up etc. As a result there are a lot of injuries and issues the go unaddressed while in the military; especially to the ill informed low information service member just trying to get through their enlistment contract. There is no VA education in military, u get a small power point at the end your career a few days before u get out. I would say from experience that most veterans that have been deployed combat or non combat- has had some issue, mental or physical that has gone under reported while in service.
So what happens the Veterans gets out, that initial period is trying to get back to civilian life etc… Some times passes and someone or military buddy tell them about the VA. The Veterans says wow i could get some money to help with bills. Then the Veterans say ah crap, all the stuff that happened to me, went undocumented and if known about the VA while in service i could got benefits much easier for the suffering that i went through….. That’s when the exaggerations happen…because to them.. they feel like they are playing catch up and the only way to recoup the lost time/opportunity that they didn’t get benefits – when the issues were legitimate…. Doesn’t make it right, but that how i think most members justify it in their minds.
How do we put a stop to this? These folks don’t have to pay property tax in VA, there are so many in my local area they are ruining the real estate market for locals . Running the locals out of the housing market. Forcing locals into the ghettos b/c they are causing the landlords to raise the rents. They are the only ones that can aford anything. I know someone pulling in over $4k untaxed disability plus retirement, GS12 job, no property tax. This is ridiculous. Never seen combat. On vacation all the time. Wife kicked out of college for cheating. Always on vacation. While the rest of civilians breaking our necks live pay check to pay check. And this is just one example. I know another who worked for me who had this disability before going in, dumb as a box of rocks, only in for 4 years and lives in a half million dollar house. This has got to stop. Its very much contributing to poverty in my area. Its completely unleveled the playing field.
Investigate? Most of the “investigators” themselves are dirty and on the take. I work in an office with a bunch of these 100% liars and thieves. Oh they may occasionally nab some moron and put them in the news for show but I promise you the overwhelming majority of claims are going uninvestigated. Just more rot in the corrupt system. I say burn it all down.
I live near an air force base and just about every car in my area is DV on the plate and mind you they drive luxury cars and drive drive fast and reckless. How is this possible that someone that works in an office on the base can get disability.Do you they get paper cuts and claim disability?? The government could save allot of money by investigating more. I know of people that I think should not be getting disability they mainly use it as an early retirement. Also-How is it that the government allows a Vet to get more than one degree and pays them a monthly payment and they just using it for early retirement and will never use that degree because they 60 years old and don’t have a desire to work after they finish. This makes me angry. How can you get the government to look into this? If this the case– how do we have a strong military in case a war breaks out if everyone is disabled?
Can’t help but feel rage and disgust every time I see the more and more common DV license plates
Airline mechanic in Navy. Female. Gets 100% disability, but never saw combat. Her biggest stressor was finding the right tool. She knew how to work the system. Meanwhile, guys who got their legs blown off, encountered enemy fire, etc….fighting for their benefits.
I have two friends who were in Vietnam. Both have diabetes and got 30% due to agent orange even though both their families had major history of the disease. A few years ago 50 years after being in the Army the one was told how to get PTSD disability. He applied and received another 40%. He now says he has PTSD, even though he never complained about it before. He went as far to tell my other friend how to embellish his answers to get it. I would much rather the VA go after these people who are frauds and stop their payments and give more to those who have lost limbs, sight, hearing, etc.
I’m reading some of these comments, someone had the balls to say you can get PTSD just from going through Basic Training. You are f’ing high.
I don’t discuss it much, but I have PTSD, the only thing that broke me was sitting in one of my friends blood pool. That was my main demise into the PTSD spiral. You telling me that most of the PTSD recipients had this occur? Went through combat as I did, had friends wounded almost killed? Hell no. They are milking the f’ing system, I have a friend that I even deployed with, freaked the f out and I had to grab him to stop him from shooting towards our squad one time when in combat because he lost all senses. Sure, he might have PTSD, but he claimed other things like TBI that he never had, because in most instances I was there and he never did. Not like my TBI where I got hit with a backblast of an RPG by a dumbass checkpoint guard, I remember checking my head and neck for bleeding like it occured 30 mins ago.
Most of these “Veterans” don’t have instances like I listed, and better yet I have more. Most of their PTSD is either non-existant, or curable. No, we shouldn’t be giving out PTSD ratings for those claiming something in basic training that wasn’t associated with rape or something like that. No, we shouldn’t be giving out PTSD disability for someone that was scared from a mortar half the FOB away. I was on a COP and got so used to close to quarters mortars that I would sleep through it and stopped going to the bunkers, most of us stopped doing that.
I hope most of these people milking the system rot. I can’t even stay in a store long enough without sweating and my head going buzzzzz. But yet these dudes and women out here claiming PTSD, going out to party, shopping for hours, living it up with their free disability money, while I am stuck taking painkillers to get by through the day because of my Migraines too. I hope these people rot in hell, and shame on you individuals defending some of these dumbass claims of these people, like PTSD in basic, go the F on. Whenever I get any chance, even from facebook, I rat out fakers, there are whole groups on facebook full of people faking the system on veteran pages, it’s sick.
Subject: Fraud – Illegal Acquisition of VA Benefits (100%) & Illegal Acquisition of SS Benefits (100%)
Dear US Congressman XXXXXX: I have a family member who is committing ongoing fraud – specifically in regard to the V.A. and Social Security. This has been ongoing since approximately 2009/2010 and since that time, this individual has bilked these two agencies (combined) out of approximately $550,000. I have, via mail, contacted both these agencies without success, along with the OIG. Even so, a crime has been committed and (in fact) is still ongoing to this very day – and yet the government is apparently unconcerned. Every single month this individual collects over $4,000 tax free dollars due to a bogus “PTSD” claim (based on a “rape” that never happened) after serving only a year in the US Air Force. To be clear, much more deserving US veterans deserve these benefits instead of this individual and I hope you agree. What I am seeking is a telephone conversation with one of your assistants in order to present the background information related to this fraud and the person who’s committing it: my ex-wife of 17 years. As such, I was present when she initiated this fraud (but at the time believed her claim of rape was truthful) at the downtown Los Angeles Federal Building in California and who has since continued defrauding the US government, like clockwork, for the past 130 months or so.
Furthermore, she has admitted (in private) that she lied to the military review board (of which I was present) in order to deceive them about a “medical condition” (rape) which she later admitted, in private, was false. The person committing US government Disability Fraud: Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxx Social Security Number: 123-45-6789 – Rank: enlisted. Last known address: 123 Anytown, USA I trust you will have someone look into this and contact me,
[A few days later I was called back and told they could do nothing. Their advice? Contact the police or the FBI. I did the latter. However, I do not expect my inquiry to go anywhere]
Money makes the wheels go round. I contacted the IG, not just any IG, THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, and showed him a paper trail of millions behind defrauded by VA affiliates and all he cared about was getting me to stfu so he could go to lunch.
Wow that was a lot of talking. Sounds like you are very frustrated. What are you looking for here. Validation? I’m only asking because it seems to be the only clear motive behind the post. I get the frustration. A broken system can feel like being stuck in time. Not seeing progress being made. I would encourage you to seek out a licensed therapist to talk about these matters, I’m sure it would be way more validating than randos saying “Youre right, that tracks with what I want to believe too.”
If that is not the case and you are looking for something more edifying I encourage you to dive deeper into this issue. I noticed you have lots of story and anecdotal elements to your article, but I only see you reference a single source. I’m sure there are more voices speaking on this matter with greater relevence than 15 years ago, and a questionable seperation from the VA to boot. No offence intended. Just seems cherry picked is all and I think in this format it comes across as just standing on a soapbox and shouting to anyone who will agree can have less than optimal consequences for people actually seeking information and not hold hands with a stranger.
I have heard other anecdotes, like most Veterans don’t persue PTSD treatment because they are afraid it would make them look weak. Perhaps this could be an avenue for doing future research. I suggest looking at Perdue universities writing lab. They have some great tips on informative writing.
Let me just say that science is a process not a belief. It is the careful (often slow) testing and retesting of a hypothesis. The hypothesis can have an anecdotal starting point, but it doesn’t set out to prove what it already believes, it actually shouldn’t set out to prove anything. (Because no information can withstand that level of scrutiny). The burden of proof is too heavy to bare alone.
I have a feeling. It is alarm. Because of the public nature of the internet consider the human cost to what you are saying. I urge you to use restraint when speaking without first considering what will be the impact of these words.
Our culture is a powerful influencer of behavior. As I can attest for myself, I struggle with believing that my symptoms are real, infact Derealization/Depersonalization is a symptom of PTSD. Now I feel the need to bridge this with compassion. I’d rather ere on the side of caution when speaking to others because I am not an expert and I don’t want to hurt anyone. What do you want?
I think many could be faking however I don’t think combat is the only factor when it comes to PTSD. I mean are you serious right now? Many things can cause a soldier to have PTSD such as rape, basic training even, or even things that happen before the military but were triggered by the military or even watching your battle buddy leave for deployment only to come back in a body bag. This article is so wrong in my opinion but also right. There is always going to be people that seriously do fake this but do not come to me and tell me that your trauma is worse than my trauma! You have no idea what a person is facing inside. Especially since I was rape by someone in the military with me that was my best friend and also being raped by someone else that was in the military with me by knifepoint and never have I told these things to the VA or the military. These are things I have keep bottled up inside me until right now and that’s because I disagree with all of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are right however because I have overheard some vets saying just that work the system and I go off my rocker because while they freaking work the system … I am struggling just to get mental health and FYI I have never asked for a freaking dime from the military!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I retired from the Army Nurse Corps in 2015, and will retire from a VA hospital next June. Yeah, I see a lot of PTSD-rated vets here. Yes, I’m skeptical.
Regarding PTSD being treated quickly- nope! I got shot with a shotgun when I was 15. I feel certain I had PTSD for probably 30 years. I’m okay now. No, I don’t have a PTSD rating from VA. I couldn’t handle the bore of a gun being pointed even remotely in my direction for a very long time. The event consumed my life for a long time.
I would like to comment on the fact some highly valued forum members cannot get a clue why the PTSD is so efficiently treated in the outside civilian world. The explanation is very simple. There is no such luxury in the civilian world as unlimited sick-leaves. No employer would keep you if you take multiple medical leaves. No, you will keep limping, moaning, but working. The economy sucks, there is a very small number of decent jobs out there. In the military, on the contrary, I observe young soldiers taking leaves for physical therapy, massage, chiropractor, acupuncture, freaking piss test etc. as many as 10 per month, oftentimes without proper reporting to allow for “terminal leave” days to accumulate.
Civilians have to return to work to make money for their families. They can’t afford their PTSD to be treated properly or even exist, guys. For a military vet – why in the hell you would accept your PTSD as treated condition when it gives you the VA paycheck? I do not see a strong motivation here, my good military men.
So you military people better be thankful to those civilians with chronic conditions, bad knees, hips and back that work hard to support you.
Faking military disabilities.
I work with a young lady that openly brags about “working the system”. She is a DOD employee, Air Force Res, and 90% Disabled vet. Her mom is a VA rep that receives Military disability claims, (no conflict of interest?). The young lady claims PTSD, migraines, and pain, just to name a few. When asked what she did with all that medicine the VA gives her, she said “I don’t take that shit, I throw it out, you got to know how to work the system”. She had a small cyst on her chest, said it was cancer, like a mole is cancer. It was removed and she is ok. She claimed it was caused by burning oil from her last overseas assignment. Note: she was over 500 miles from the burning oil area, but was awarded the claim anyway.
Many of us have reported this. No-one seems to care. It’s disgusting.
I am a Marine veteran poisoned for 3.5 years at Camp Lejeune and now suffer from multiple auto immune disorders. I do not get any compensation and live in horrific pain. I have personally met a few PTSD fakers, one being a cousin, and one working full time in the federal government. Both are collecting 100% disability and life is good for them because they have nothing wrong with them, at all, yet veterans like myself get no help at all and are literally forced to continue working in horrendous pain to make ends meet. I met one gentleman who was a postmaster and in the National guard getting ready to retire with federal retirement and 100% disability and once again he was extremely happy at having struck it rich while there was nothing, I repeat, NOTHING wrong with him. I have been in on conversations of other Guardsmen planning their retirement the same way, it was their goal, while no one gives a damn about veterans like myself who suffer immensly. They have to strip these people of all Veterans benefits and convert their discharges to dishonorable. I suffer depression, anxiety, chronic pain, social isolation because no one can stand to be around me and I cannot blame them because I am miserable and nearly ready to end it all. To top this off, chronic pain patients are being villainized because of the fake opioid crisis and having medication reduced to the point of living in constant pain. Tell me who the villains are, TELL ME!
This is a classic “I served more than you, you don’t rate”. I had multiple knee surgeries and will likely have to get multiple more, the VA rates that as a 10% disability. So they are saying the ringing in my ears is worth as much as not being able to work on my feet for more than a couple of hours at a time for the rest of my life. The VA screws people on disability and then you got jackass’s like you trying to make it harder for everyone. Step of your soapbox because you’re just contributing to the 22 a day. Maybe the Gov can just take one raytheon contract away and pay all vets but your small mind probably can’t wrap around those numbers.
So much fraud – unfortunately I know several at 80 to 100 who never saw action- non! This article is spot on – the backlog will clear when the easy money is gone. Then people who needed it will be able to get it.
Co-worker bragged about getting 90% VA Disability. Goal is to get 100%.
I’m told her mom works in an office that receives the Disability Packages…I can’t prove that.
She had breast implants a few years ago. They found a small cyst on her chest. It was removed.
It was called Breast Cancer. No treatments. She claims to have PTSD, Sleep Disorder, Pain and other made-up disability disorders.
According to her, none of these are true. During a recent discussion about Disability Claims and how to get the most out of your claim…she was talking about all the medicine she gets and stated: “I don’t take all that shit, I throw it away. You got to know how to work the system”. Disgusting.
I’m not a doctor, but someone needs to check this women out. I believe good doctors were fed false information to get a false Disability rating.
For PTSD, she had to say, when she hears bombs, she has to hide. She works near an impact area. She hears bombs all the time. People the work with her for eight hours don’t believe her scared of bonbs claim. It’s like a car driving by, no reaction.
Her name is India Macquette Lemmon. Maiden name is Spaulding. 36 Years old. Back Female
Currently living in Fayetteville, NC
She has advised and instructed friends at her work, how to “work” the system.
One of her friends, Jacquelyn Dutes, had a bad stomach during her short time in the Air Force. She partied a lot. She love to drink and eat spicy foods. She still does, yet, when she filed a Disability Claim, she showed all the stomach medications she had to take over the years, and was awarded 60% Disability for a bad stomach. Disgusting.
I have to stay anonymous.
Marine Corps veteran here 2003-2007. I got deployed twice to Iraq, I never fired my rifle one time. I was a radio operator. I saw my fair share of dead people, explosions, Iraqi police that got shot up etc. I really don’t know if I have PTSD or not. I used to have dreams, i don’t have them anymore. I used to dream about being in Iraq and my unit was leaving. I was trying to catch up to them. The faster I ran, the further they drove away. I would wake up in cold sweats. I used to get mad at people for staring at me or giving me lip. I lost a few jobs as a civilian after the military to my anger and my lack of decorum around civilians.
Anyways back in 2015 I was let go from a job because I threw someone against the wall that was running their mouth. My neighbor who worked at the VA (I didn’t know it at the time) was talking to me in my drive way. I told him what happened. He knew I was a veteran, he made a appointment for me to go see a VA specialist. I don’t know why I went, I guess to see if I actually was messed up.
Anyways the VA specialist sent me to a civilian clinic and I talked to them. Next thing I know I’m handed a form to fill out for PTSD claim. I sat on it for a little bit. I
had a wife and two small children. I was the only one working in the house. If I lost my job my family would be homeless and I would have nothing to show for it. So I decided to file the claim. I now get money from the VA. Im not saying I deserve it. However I guess I justify it by knowing at least my children and wife will have a roof over their head. If I get hurt or lose my job at minimum they wont get evicted. Am I wrong?
Man your story really resonated with me. I was Navy split service. Served 90 to 93. Some reserve time and back active 96 to 2000. I worked in aircraft, mostly carrier based but in country on occasion. No combat, but served in combat theater. Over the years I have had many jobs and lost some due to anger issues or anxiety. It’s so out of character for me. Not receiving any disability for it but have been told I should pursue it. My anger has gotten better…I just don’t give a fuck anymore you know? Realizing there are a lot of posers you are not one. You did the right thing. Hope all works out for you.
I work with a young lady that fakes PTSD and other military disabilities. She was awarded 90% from the Air Force. She also faked Pain, Sleep Disorder, and Migraines. The VA gives her medications for Pain, Migraines, and others. She doesn’t take meds. Doesn’t need them. Had a small cist removed from one of her breast implants. Said it was cancer. Claim the burning of an oil drum, 500 miles from her duty station caused her breast cancer. Cist was removed, no treatments were needed, yet, it was called breast cancer.
Her mother works in the office that received her Disability package, not big surprise, her package was expedited.
Hard to believe the VA allows this. Of course, I can’t prove any of this, a REAL doctor would have to check it out.
PTSD is the single most biggest scheme going, other than welfare recipients who are on for depression/anxiety.
Indeed. Seems like every Vet I run into , action or not action, is getting paid. Sometimes 80 to 100 percent…tax payer money. I guess no more 20 for retirement. Just go in for 4 , get out and lie, and the VA will hand out our tax payer money like candy.
Handing out money. Most young vets and young people thinking about signing up, are taught the Faking Disabilities 101. One of my civilian co-workers spent about seven years in the Air Force. During that time, she partied, drank, and ate spicy foods. Every time she needed Rolaids, Tums, or any other over-the-counter stomach med, she went to the clinic. After seven years, she had compiled a thick medical record of “stomach problems”. You probably guessed it, she was awarded 60% disability for a bad stomach aggravated by active duty.
I still know her, she still drinks and eats spicy foods.
It’s insane that people openly talk about faking disabilities without fear of punishment.
Her lie has been reported. No-one seems to care.
dude, ptsd is treated in a short time in civilians? you must not work with patients or been in the er and experienced first hand the countless lives ptsd destroys in both civilians and vets over the course of their lives. the stats don’t support your narrative, vets kill them selves twice as much as their non vet counterparts, and almost twice as likely to be homeless. and you want to make it harder to connect vets with compensation?. get back to your type writer and find somebody else to pick on. your baseless claims only add to the issues vets are facing today.
I believe he’s referring to those who are claiming to have PTSD but really don’t. As well as those who were accidentally injured on base. For example. I have three family members all under the age of 30 who served 4 years in the military. Never deployed, only worked on base behind a desk. They are all receiving disability. One of them is even receiving 100% disability. They all claim they have PTSD and depression. They all had injuries that happened on base as well. This monthly disability benefit is for the rest of their lives even if they are perfectly capable of working a regular job. All three of my family members, and I’m not proud to say this, have full-time jobs and are still collecting a disability payment every month. On top of getting a living wage payment every month while they are getting degrees paid for by the GI bill. It’s an entitled generation at the expense of the taxpayers. It sickens me. Quite frankly it disgusts me because my father was a Korean world war veteran and never received these benefits. I have another family member who did 2 tours in Desert Storm. He experienced severe trauma and was also physically injured. He is 100% disabled veteran and gets paid the same as my other family member who never left base. How is that fair? But I dare not speak up about this to my family because they gave 4 years of their lives to the military and in their eyes I would be bashing our military. 4 years for a lifetime of free money. Give me a break. And FYI, most of their friends in the military are claiming disability as well. You can go on YouTube and literally find hundreds of videos coaching these entities Vets on how to get the highest disability ratings. My heart goes out to all the men and women who have served our country and truly suffer from PTSD or physical injuries sustained in combat. Shame on everyone else who is milking the system.
Well said. I know a female VET – 4 years, desk job – all domestic. No action, no injuries …100 percent rating. All fake…. Even did all the free college thing, etc…. Travels the world like a rockstar. Her boyfriend – same – 80 percent and shooting for 100. Sad….
Glad to see this article pop up on my google alerts again. It’s an extremely well written piece and deserves more attention. Fraudulent claims are completely out of hand, exacerbated by “veterans advocacy groups” who deep down hate the military and exist solely to get free college and monthly checks for dirtbags. Perhaps the greatest example I can think of for this is the case of Marcus Hurdle, represented by the Yale veterans legal clinic. Mr. Hurdle had a lengthy criminal history prior to his joining the service in 1990. (Most likely under a “join the military or go to jail” situation… those were still a thing. Because it should totally be the military’s responsibility to fix dirtbags like Hurdle.) After a few months he went down to Atlanta, GA for a funeral where he was shot. He claims he was shot because he was wearing his uniform… witness reports as recorded in contemporaneous news articles about the shooting recall him wearing a red bandanna and the shooters wearing blue. One witness specifically called it a “crips vs. bloods” thing and I ask the relevant question… since when is a red bandana authorized for wear with a navy service dress blue? Anyhow, after returning to his command, and being the subject of a sexual assault investigation, he eventually popped positive on a piss test and was booted after just a year or just shy of, under notice proceedings. (no board if you are less than 6 years in and the command doesn’t go for the OTH). Once out, he continued on with his life of crime racking up an extensive criminal history, and getting stabbed. With the help of “advocacy groups” he got the VA to diagnose him with PTSD at 100% and change his status to “honorable for VA purposes” which he fraudulently represents as an Honorable upgrade. They are not the same thing. He now gets 3,500/month in disability pay while he waits in jail on armed home invasion charges. And the Yale law clinic wants him released because something something COVID, something something veteran. It’s gross, offensive, and par for the course. The navy didn’t break Mr. Hurdle. The navy could not fix the broken turd it was handed by some idiot judge.
I happen to know of a woman who brags about being a disabled vet, what she doesnt say is that she only made it through 3 months of basic training before being discharged for mental issues. 12 years later she filed for disability benefits for ptsd and a number of other physical injuries she supposedly sustained in basic training. She now receives 1,800/month for a 70% disability. She has no problems taking benefits from people who have actually earned them.
Thank you for writing this article and I feel a majority of this is spot on. I myself am a veteran and served 5 tours in combat with OIF, OEF and other hot spots with in GWOT. After I got hurt I got out and got my masters and became a therapist as I saw there was little support or help for veterans, especially within the VA system. I ended up working for the VA in this capacity and what you wrote about was the reason I left. First off I saw how the VHA which actually treats the veteran takes everything on face value and does not challenge a veteran even if their records or documents prove they didn’t serve or experience combat like they state. I then saw the veterans use the notes from the VHA to then file a claim with the VBA and get their “hundred percent”. It was sickening and quite frankly a eye opener as I could not understand how a veteran could lie and manipulate like that. The system does need to be revamped and quite frankly sought all my personal help outside the VA and it was night and day from what is being offered and delivered in the VA.
Now I will challenge on aspect of this article and will call it as it is, complete BS. This in regards to the statement that outside the VA trauma is treated with relatively short amount of exposure therapy. I don’t know what trauma he has treated, but with all of my clients who suffer from PTSD there is no such thing as short treatment. What I have seen people push is 6-12 session and that is complete BS and not effective. Treating trauma is different for each individual and can really be dictated by several factors. This right here is apart of the problem, making statements on how long treatment should last as each individual and their treatment is different. Hell over the last 10-15 years we have learned more about the brain and trauma then ever before, yet most of these modalities are rooted in the 1980s or even older.
I’ll end with this, there is no simple fix and no one size fits all. Yes someone who served inside the wire can have PTSD just like a bubba who spent his entire time doing 2-3 hits a night. The biggest factor is what did each person show up to combat with already, broken childhood, previous abuse, no coping skills and so forth. We should have a comprehensive system that treats and provides compensation for veterans who have suffered during their military service, yet weeds out the dudes who did 6 months in 1979 and is claiming PTSD 40 years later and actually getting it. We as vets also need to check our VSO as this article is spot on that most of these are run by scammers teaching others how to scam the system.
I find this highly troubling. When I was discharged, I was diagnosed with petella femur pain disorder, right in my medical records. The VA never did an initial eval. Two years ago I went back at the urging of several friends and fellow veterans, to get an upgrade to my status, they also suggested a tinnitus evaluation. I’m not looking for money, but treatment and help. You guessed it, even with it documented, I was denied, and my VFQ VSO was no where to be found to help me appeal. Guess I should have said I have PTSD (and there is cause, but I don’t need the diagnosis and stigma so I won’t even try)……. 🙁
I’m a Disabled Vet. The VA has asked me to file for PTSD several times several years ago. I didn’t.I will survive. It is hard to fake PTSD. I’ve see several with it including My BIL who was Sgt in Army Force Recon. He was supposed to lead the patrol but had something else that had to be taken care of. His friend died leading the patrol,Stepped on a landmine.It devastated him and he til this day blames himself.It haunts him.Then there is nothing like sitting down on a log, dog tired and discovering it s a crispy critter! Then the fellow troops dropping around you. Or removing a Gunship, hit between the armor plates up into the back of his head, now spattered all over the ship. Grown men cried as he pleaded for help and there was none that could be given. PTSD You didn’t have to be in the front lines. Only those with them with the most honor cleaned up that ship.
You cannot fake PTSD to whomever sitting at that typewriter wrote that BS!
“Army Force Recon” are you for real? Swashplate? You’re a helo guy, airwing, take your “L’s” and sit down. Its not hard to fake PTSD because they arent allowed to question the trauma. Hell, most of us don’t want the diagnosis. We can see the writing on the wall, PTSD Diag equals no guns, and we love our guns.
After reading Swashplate’s post, we are all entitled for at least 10% do to cancer.
This guy is wrong about PTSD but right about fakes. I’m severely disabled from combat PTSD. I have twice fallen so low. One attempt which got me put into the mental hospital and a year ago fell back into it and started thinking about it. I went and got the VA to give me more and different meds and I’m not thinkIng about it no more. I was 03 USMC, multiple tours in some of the biggest fights people can remember. I have nightmares every night even with the meds. I truly do avoid military topics, I don’t wear the regalia, I don’t cherish or brag about my time. I hate it. I hate that I killed people for what now amounts to no reason, I hate I accidentally killed children one night especially made worst being a father when I came back, hate that my friend had his brains blown out of him while I carried him under fire and injured myself. That I had to listen to him gurgle and stare up at me. I hate that I can write this but not speak it. I could go on but this isn’t something easily if at all cured for the authentic. That said I refuse group because the two times I went it was all fakers. I see the VA doctor for my psyche meds and see a civilian doctor I pay for for PTSD treatment. I do receive compensation for PTSD but it isn’t 100%. I receive it for my back that was broken in 7 places, my hip which the joint is damaged, my knees I had surgery on, TBI, as well as other service and combat related injuries. I know currently 3 complete frauds I work with getting 100% with nothing wrong at all. Meanwhile the VA tried to reduce me a couple times and I go there, receive and take meds, tried to kill myself, been in a mental facility but they went after me. It’s crazy.
Until the early 2000’s the VA systems’ administration treated most veterans with neuro psychiatric issues as shirkers, malingerers, slackers and whiners. Not the majority of the care providers who often were frustrated in trying to provide effective treatment with the means then available, it was not that care givers did not care.
Then medical imaging technology arrived to the point where the structure of a living brain could be seen and finally actual physical changes to brain structure caused by PTSD, concussion and brain trauma could be observed and correlated to the patient’s experience. Finally physical changes that correlated to symptoms could be observed, not for all maladies but for many.
I am surprised that medical imaging technology is not also used to provide evidence and guidance for effective treatment.
Two tours Vietnam
I feel a lot of guilt, a lot of shame. Sadness, loss. I was not in war. After a few years of service, something happened in my mind and I was asked to leave. This has devastated me and has changed my life. after 20+ years, I had no one to turn to and in became desperate. I had to file a claim as I needed help, all I wanted was treatment. some of us that get it, wish we never had it.
I found your post while searching for any answer why people are faking assaults, abusing the process. It blows my mind, really. Let me say this: first, I am a real female who was really physically assaulted (MST) while I was active duty Navy in the late 1980’s when I was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. I can’t begin to describe WTF happened to me first that night which was horrific enough, then what happened to me for nearly 10 months by my command when I chose to report what happened outside my chain. Dante’s version of Hell doesn’t even come close. Abusive is an understatement. I don’t know if you realize this, but pre-TailHook, if you got sexually assaulted, you were treated like you were walking for it and it was your fault – even if the evidence (which I kept) clearly demonstrated this was definitely not the case. It has literally taken me 30 years deal with it and I’m still having major problems. So yeah, I know I am a chronic insomniac and yeah, I got PTSD related to all that crap I can’t count how many times over the years that I was told by both private and VA clinicians that’s what’s going on in my head.
What has gotten me so frustrated things recently is of how some people, particularly women, are using SHARP and other well meaning Programs to fake harassment and/or assaults advance their own agendas. What eats at me is these Fakers, once they have made an accusation against a legitimately innocent (usually male) not only destroy the reputation and careers of those accused but just as bad will have the opportunity to wind up making a MST claim with the VA. What rights do the accused have? The same I had in the 80’s when I filed my complaint. None. WTF. The pendulum swung the other way.
These low lives have no idea what people like me went thru physically and emotionally. They have no clue what it’s like to have to deal with the fall out.
As a female MST victim/survivor whatever (I hate both terms), I don’t “believe all women”. Right off the top I know 3 who have blatantly lied about being a “victim” of harassment/assault. It’s a joke to them, they use it as a stepping stone. Ultimately those women believe whoever they accused deserved it because those guys probably did it to someone else so those women were just doing some justice anyway. Don’t think I’m joking – it’s total relational aggression. I had 1 of those fakers that found out about my past have the nerve to ask me for advice what she needed to do to make a claim with the VA when she was ready to get out … talk about a trigger (I hate that term too)…My response was/is not fit for a public forum.
Look, in my book if someone is a sexual predator or harasser – they deserve every ounce of punishment the UCMJ affords. It should be the same with those who are faking it. But that’s not happening. Shame.
Jane, You are spot on with your comments about false MST claims. When I retired an E6 transition clerk, black female, went on about a 15 minute diatribe about a false MST claim she witnessed that destroyed a very competent male sailor’s career. She also said that young female sailors know that if they make a claim to the VA that they were assaulted during their career that it was a green light for lifelong VA disability compensation.
I totally agree that this is a slap in the face of those truly assaulted during their service.
I’m a Navy vet (’68-’74). I’ve seen this crap ever since I served in the Vietnam War era. (I say era because I never served in combat. I was stationed on the east coast and never went within two thousand miles of Vietnam. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to claim Vietnam vet status and steal it from those who actually served over there.) Here’s my suggestion. Forward this article to every Congressman and Senator. Demand that they fix the problem. Don’t take no for an answer.
I have a personal friend who is a psychologist and veteran. He works on a contract basis with the VA on PTSD cases. He tells me exactly the same thing that Chris has written here. The system is overwhelmed with frauds and liars.
To every honorable vet (in which group I proudly stand), confront EVERY faker and liar you meet. Shame them. Make it uncomfortable to even be in your presence.
Being a veteran does not give you special privileges. Nor does it make you exempt from criticism. More than a few have served honorably only to be scoundrels later in life. And more than a few have always been scoundrels. You know it. I know it. It’s time to stop giving them a pass.
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.
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?
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.
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?
P.S. Nothing I wrote should be construed as representing the views or opinions of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the federal government.
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.
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,
Thanks, and I’ve been working my way through all that information. This problem is even bigger than I thought.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That is an extremely interesting insight. Thank you sir, both for your comment and your honorable service.
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.
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.
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.