In August, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it would be reviewing 72,000 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) awards granted between 1999 and 2004. This amounts to about one-third of all PTSD claims. The majority of the awards went to Vietnam veterans who have battled the VA, many for ten years or longer, to receive compensation for PTSD. The awards to be reviewed will be ones where full disability (100%) for PTSD was granted. Veterans ' groups stand united in
opposition to the review.
The VA 's reason for the review is that an internal study found inconsistencies in the way the claims were decided, including many cases approved though they lacked required medical evidence. That study, an Inspector General's (IG) report from May 2005, found that more than 25% of the PTSD cases reviewed, from a small sample of 2,100 cases, lacked adequate proof of a service-related stressor. How can a claim be awarded if the veteran doesn 't meet the standards set for that claim? This doesn 't make any sense.
VA spokesman, Phil Budahn, tried to minimize the review by calling it a "paper exercise " and adding that the VA 's "assumption is that the documents exist and we just didn't note them. " This still makes no sense. If the VA didn 't note the documents, how could the PTSD claim have been awarded?
What does make sense is the amount of money the VA could save if it overturns some of these claims. If the IG 's figure of 25% is accurate and it can be extrapolated to the 72,000 cases now being reviewed, that would mean 18,000 PTSD awards could be overturned. At about $2,299 a month for full PTSD disability, the VA could save nearly $500 million a year if the claims were denied.
The VA IG report that led to all this was originally conducted to determine why veterans in some states received higher, or lower, compensation than veterans in other states. Veterans in Illinois have complained for years that they receive much less compensation for like disabilities. The IG report found this allegation to be true. But, the VA argued that veterans in Illinois weren 't receiving less compensation but that veterans in other states were receiving too much compensation. This logic led to the VA 's review of the 72,000 PTSD claims.
The VA will still require proof of a specific "stressor " for these awarded claims that are being reviewed and that burden of proof falls to the veteran. A year in a combat zone does not, per se, count as a specific stressor (see 38 CFR 3.304[f] and notice use of the word "may " as a disqualifier). "I think the whole year over there (in Iraq) was my stressor, but they actually wanted a specific incident," said Jesus Bocanegra, 23, of McAllen, Texas.
If the VA 's review finds a veteran's claim does not include adequate proof of a "stressor" the veteran will be asked to provide more information. During that process the VA says there will be no change in benefits. The VA says it will work with vets to help them prove their cases while, at the same time, being on guard for possible fraud, a threat if there ever was one. (It should be noted that VA statistics show fraud is an issue in only 2.5% of claims. Other studies show that figure to be between 0.5% and 1.5%.)
But the VA 's real slap-in-the-face to veterans is the fact that there will be no second look at denied PTSD claims in the 1999 to 2004 time-frame. Why not? No reason was given but the VA said they "could look at that later. " Common sense dictates that if the VA made errors in granting PTSD claims then they made at least as many errors in denying claims.
Some veterans ' groups are calling this entire process "Emotional Friendly Fire " getting shelled by the VA, the very agency designed to protect veterans. It recalls the years when the VA and DoD denied any relationship between Agent Orange and serious illnesses affecting Vietnam veterans and routinely denied claims for treatment and compensation.
What we see here is just the opening salvo in a well-planned war to dismantle veterans ' benefits as we know them. With Rep. Buyer on point, the anti-veteran forces are moving swiftly to accomplish their goals. The following four hyperlinked articles were originally published on Military dot com and provide a look at this dismantling process.
First was demonizing the VA and veterans who receive benefits. Then a constant campaign of distortion and disinformation. Add a Presidential Commission whose charge it is to determine "whether the death or disability of a veteran should be compensated. " Then change VA rules to require a second review of all PTSD, Individual Unemployability and 100% disability claims.
And, as much as the VA denies it, it IS ABOUT MONEY. The VA is NOT reviewing PTSD claims awarded at less than 100%. They are NOT reviewing any other claims. If PTSD claims are up for review, why not skin rashes? Because PTSD awards are big money awards. This review could result in thousands of veterans having their benefits reduced or denied. And, this sends a chilling message to our troops currently on active-duty: Don 't get sick, don 't get hurt, and, most certainly, don 't file a claim for compensation.
Most disquieting is the VA 's attempts to downplay this review process and even censor criticism. VA spokesman Phil Budahn always speaks in terms that try to minimize the fact that disabled veterans could lose their only source of income. But, VA spokesman Scott Hogenson is much more aggressive. Hogenson, a political appointee and former executive director of the Conservative Communications Center (www.therightvoice.org), has worked to stop publication of any criticism of the VA 's PTSD review. In at least one case he was successful in having an article critical of the review process pulled from a well-known military/veteran news web site.
Where does this all go from here? Downhill fast! Those who agree with Rep. Buyer 's agenda of putting all VA benefits "on the table " control the House and Senate. The politically-motivated and politically-stacked Veterans ' Disability Benefits Commission is well on the way to completely re-writing the VA benefits handbook including the definition of who is a veteran and whether or not they should get ANY benefits.
The only relief in sight for the 72,000 veterans facing review of their PTSD claims comes from Democrats in the Senate. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Barack Obama (D-IL) and others have inserted an amendment into the Fiscal Year 2006 VA budget which would stop this review. It is almost certain that the House will yank the amendment before the budget gets to a vote.