PTSD and the VA

Are Veterans Partially to Blame for the VA Backlog?

By now the whole country is aware of the issues that are running rampant through the VA medical system. Extended wait times for appointments, claims being denied for little or no reason and the miles of red tape that surround every VA service. And while the VA has acknowledged their shortcomings and has set out to try and rectify the problem, it’s time that we as veterans begin to shoulder some of the blame. We have been at war in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq was invaded in 2003, so why after a decade at war did the VA suddenly run off the tracks in 2011? A rule change in 2010 in regards to PTSD could be the straw that broke the VA’s back and led to the influx of cases of “Stolen Trauma”.

A two-part problem

There are two primary contributors to the current VA Claims backlog. First is the length of the wait to see a health care professional, and the second is how long it takes to receive a decision on a disability claim. These go hand in hand because in order to verify your claim you must go to the VA and see a provider for physical exams. So in-between seeing patients with injuries and other service connected issues, VA doctors are examining vets for their VA claims. These claims eat into a doctor’s time, affecting his ability to treat the neediest among us.

Once a veteran has completed their medical exams, they sit back and wait for a final decision on their disability payments and what the VA will be responsible for treating and the percentage of disability compensation they receive. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), this whole evaluation process is designed to take 132 days. But in 2011 it was taking a total of 10 months for most vets to receive their final determination in the mail and begin any appeals process.

In 2009 the VA was on target. Claims were being processed as they came in and they were meeting their target. But by the end of 2010, a backlog was starting to grow. And by 2011 a backlog of 500,000 cases had piled up. The issue should have been identified and steps taken to clear the backlog. Instead, 2 years passed and no real action was taken, and in 2013 the levies broke. Whistle blowers started coming forward alleging numbers were being fudged. Veterans were dying while waiting to get seen by doctors. The signs were there, but the VA failed to act.

In just three years there had been a rise in backlogged claims from 100,000 in 2009 to over 500,000 in 2011. Why this sudden rise in backlogs? The process had stayed the same. The VA was still processing a million claims a year. In fact, the number of claims processed had increased in 2010. But now they were being inundated by 200,000 more claims in 2010 and 300,000 more in 2011. So what changed? Enter what I like to refer to as “Stolen Trauma”.

Like most veterans I love seeing the “Stolen Valor” videos. It’s always some old crusty Gunny confronting a Ranger Seal in an ate-up uniform in a Starbucks. It’s hilarious. He asks him his unit and the guy is always from Seal Team 12 and sporting every medal under the sun in any old order. We know he’s a fraud and it’s easy to see and therefore easy to call them out on it.

My first experience with Stolen Trauma was basically the same. A buddy from the Marines sends me a link to a Facebook picture of a guy who showed up to our old squadron right after I had left. He had been an avionics mechanic, same as me. He had eventually gone to Iraq with the unit and spent his deployment on the FOB turning wrenches. The picture that my buddy had sent me was of his service dog. My friend messaged him and asked what the dog was for. The answer, PTSD. But unlike Stolen Valor, which is easy to see, with Stolen Trauma how do you know this guy is a fraud? Everything in my body says he is, but how do you prove it?

Relaxed standards lead to a stressed system

In 2010, the VA relaxed its rules on approving PTSD claims. Prior to 2010 you had to provide documented proof of events that might have caused symptoms of the disorder. You couldn’t go down there and say, “Some mortars hit my FOB and I’m traumatized”, you had to have a legitimate, documented event. The rules were relaxed and suddenly the claims went up. And not just by OIF and OEF veterans, Gulf War and Vietnam Vets were now filing claims as they no longer needed supporting documents that they may not be able to produce. The dramatic rise in claims stressed the system. Stress on the system took time from treating those in our ranks that are in need of the VA’s help and used it to process these newly filed claims and appeals.

Think about the time spent on this case of alleged Stolen Trauma. Hundreds of hours were spent training his service animal. Countless hours were logged by psychiatrists diagnosing and treating him. The primary care doctors saw him for referrals. All that time robbed from those that need the VA’s help.

Addressing and Correcting “Stolen Trauma”

Stolen Trauma is nothing more than psychological malingering, but unlike Stolen Valor, Stolen Trauma isn’t blatantly obvious to the average Service Member or Veteran. So confronting a stranger with the cellphone video rolling is out of the question. So how do we address and correct this issue? It must be done by those that served with them and know what they have actually been through. However, the individuals that are doing this are not the type you would see at the reunion. They are back home, trying to pass themselves off as someone they are not. They want the attention. They want to be looked at as an Old Grizzled War Vet when in actuality they fixed some helicopters in the middle of the desert and their weapon was nothing more than something they had to lug with them to the chow hall.

They need to be shown that they are taking away from our community, that is already undermanned with mental health professionals and underfunded. Tell them that there is a veteran out there who truly needs what he is taking from the VA. We have to acknowledge that there are those among us that are gaming the system and that allowing them to continue to do so has played a role in this whole VA mess. But at the end of the day, it’s on them. They are the ones that have to own up to it. They are the ones that need to stop using the VA resources. And as long they continue to darken the VA’s door for goods and services they don’t need, they will be to blame for the VA’s inability to properly care for the Vets that TRULY need help.

Important: If you need help with PTSD, seek it out. In fact, here’s a link where you can get free counseling if your problem is service-related. Millions of service members have real problems that benefit from help. The guy who started this site has gone to counseling and it kept him sane. The programs that are out there are for vets like you. But there are shitbags playing the system trying to get a disability check. They’re the lowest of the low, robbing resources from our brothers and sisters, and should be ashamed of themselves.

5 thoughts on “Are Veterans Partially to Blame for the VA Backlog?

  1. The VA has hired thousands of counselors who sit next to phones and wait for a call. Many do not trust the VA with their mental health because the system contributes to isolation addiction and depression. The 22 a day statistic is very deceptive, really only the tip of the iceberg. That does not include the Veterans who simply drink themselves to death or overdose.

  2. I’ve been saying this for a while; great case made. It dawned on me a few years ago when I was talking with an old 1SG who was about to retire and he started talking about going to get a sleep study done before he got out, I had asked him how long he had been troubled by sleep problems (I’ve had a few sleep studies done due to sleep apnea) and he looked at me and laughed.

    “Not at all. But the Army took from me plenty so I’m going to get mine; I’m going to drink a few 5 hour energy shots before I go in to it.”

    That’s the problem, too many people want some form of “payback” without realizing they’re doing it at the expense of people who truly suffer from those inflictions.

  3. While I don’t deny your assertion of “Stolen Trauma,” and think you make valid points, my opinion of how the backlog was created is based on the change of VA Disability. It used to be that the money awarded for disability was subtracted from retirement pay. The only financial advantage being that the disability pay is tax free. Now, with the change, retirement pay remains the same and now qualifying Vets are awarded the disability pay in addition to it. (If the disability rating is 50% or greater.) This makes for a much more attractive reason to pursue a VA disability. Supposedly conditions such as PTSD and Sleep Apnea qualify as an automatic 50%–it’s all about the money.

  4. Ballsy article. There is definitely truth in your position, as I’ve seen many Soldiers suddenly try to double the width of their medical records folder in the final months of their career before retirement.

    A couple thoughts though.
    1.) While I believe you touched on the fact that there are legitimate claims that many people have the right to and should seek out, your repeated use of the “FOBBIT” as an example can be troublesome. There are plenty of other mental health problems a person can be afflicted with that are not necessarily PTSD, but could still be the result of a 12 month deployment. For example, prolonged environmental stress (long shift hours, desert life, etc.) combined with family issues back home (divorce, financial problems, etc) and/or poor command climate (toxic leaders) can contribute to a Soldier coming home with anxiety or depression which requires treatment even though the Soldier never saw actual combat. These Soldiers don’t need to be shamed for seeking mental health treatment without having a CAB or any medals for Valor. I don’t think you were saying that, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
    2.) Just like any other government entitlement program (welfare, Section 8 housing, etc.), VA Disability Claims are is easy to abuse. Your proposed solution of having other Soldiers speak out to invalidate the claimants PTSD is basically one huge HIPPA violation because it would require the treating physician to read you the notes from their counseling sessions. It also requires one Soldiers to BF another Soldier — which, legitimate or not, is gonna make everyone involved pretty unpopular.
    3.) Questioning a Soldiers disability claim for mental health issues is political suicide for anyone government official that actually has the power to fix this — which makes it that much easier to abuse to begin with.

    So while I agree with you that the problem exists and has financial consequences to the government, and more importantly, medical consequences to the Soldiers who are waiting forever to receive treatment that they legitimately need… I’d say the solution is so much more complicated than what you have proposed.

    Regardless, thanks for having the sack to say out loud what many know to be true but don’t want to admit. Admitting we have a problem is always the first step.

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