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.