Greg Morris, of Chama, New Mexico, didn't send me an email. Morris, a Vietnam veteran, took out his gun and killed himself. At his side, next to his Purple Heart, was a folder containing information from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) describing the review of 72,000 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims that had already been awarded.
All of these veterans have a common bond. They all suffer from PTSD. They all receive VA compensation. And, they all live in fear of losing the small amount of income their VA compensation offers.
All except Greg Morris, because he is not among the living. Morris was worried about losing his benefits. His PTSD counseling was triggering flashbacks. He had been told not to worry about the VA review because he had been wounded and that should mean his compensation award wouldn't be reduced or canceled.
The October 8 suicide of Greg Morris has received little attention in the press. Details came to light last week when Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) testified before a hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance. Udall said of Morris, "He believed, as so many veterans do, that he was being forced to prove himself again."
The VA calls the review a "paper exercise" citing errors they made in granting the compensation. Spokespersons for the VA have consistently tried to downplay the significance of the review by reassuring veterans that they aren't trying to take away any benefits.
But, Rep. Udall said while it might seem like a "paperwork review" to the VA, veterans with PTSD see it as a "personal attack" that will force them to relive the trauma to continue getting benefits. And, a VA compensation specialist told me "it's all about money" and added, "We could save a few billion a year if we deny these guys' claims."
Adding to the anger and confusion among veterans is the VA's complete lack of candor about the PTSD review process. No VA documents have surfaced indicating how the process is to be handled internally.
And, the VA keeps sending confusing signals to veterans about the review. VA centers in Arizona and South Dakota have told veterans' groups that the review if off. This, while other VA officials have publicly stated that the review will continue "until someone tells us to stop."
This indecision on the part of the VA has turned into a game of emotional ping-pong that is devastating many veterans who suffer from PTSD. They are asking: Is my claim valid? Will I have to prove everything all over again and relive the hell? Will they take away my compensation? And, if they do, what will I do?
If this review were truly a "paper exercise" as the VA claims, then it could be done on paper. The VA could analyze, without notifying veterans, any errors made in granting claims. Then they could lay out standardized guidelines for all claims processors so that these types of errors would not occur in the future. No one need know. Unless"unless the real goal is to cut costs by reducing and denying PTSD claims.
The VA's total incompetence in handling the review of 72,000 PTSD claims would be laughable if 72,000 lives weren't at stake. But, this is what veterans have come to expect from the agency set up to help and protect them.
A recent edition of New Republic magazine ranked VA Secretary Jim Nicholson #4 on the list of the top 15 political hacks bungling their way through government agencies. The VA, top-heavy with political appointees and inept cronies, is being "Mike Browned" and making enemies of those who fought our enemies.
I dearly hope that Bob does not go through hell again. I hope William does not have to sell his home. And Mary should be with her husband, to help him through the nightmare of PTSD, and not working.
It's time for the VA to abandon this review of PTSD claims. It's time for them to stop harassing those who have already given so much.
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