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Veterans with PTSD Face Campaign of Misinformation, Disinformation and Outright Lies

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When the Washington Post prints a front page story1 about the politics and money surrounding veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it attracts lots of attention. And, when that story spells out plans by the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) to redefine PTSD and restructure veterans' compensation, it forces the conservative "spin machine" into action to try to minimize any information that indicates PTSD is a problem in the veteran community.

The trouble with trying to minimize accurate information about the PTSD issue is that misinformation, disinformation and outright lies are the only tools available to make the disorder seem like a minor problem instead of the colossal mental health crisis that it is.

Just a few hours after the Post published their well-balanced article about PTSD, the arch-conservative Washington Times and their UPI news service had "borrowed" it and published a severely-edited rewrite2. The Times/UPI story referred only to the high cost of PTSD compensation and concerns over veterans making fraudulent claims. The timing is more than coincidence.

I received an email from a public affairs officer at a large veterans' service organization who doesn't believe in coincidence, either. His view of the situation was that the VA bosses read the Post article and got angry, ordered the VA public affairs people to rewrite it to fit the current right-wing anti-PTSD sentiment and then told politically-likeminded media people to run it.

A day later, the conservative military web site Strategy Page dot com published an unsigned "news" piece3 about PTSD which dealt mainly with the high costs of compensation, the issue of fraud and the argument that the disorder "could always be faked." Again, hardly a coincidence.

Why is so much energy being expended to minimize the issue of PTSD? Money! Currently the VA pays disability compensation to 215,871 veterans with PTSD. That comes to over $4.3 billion a year and that is just for compensation. When medical care and other benefits are added in, the cost could approach $7 billion, or nearly ten per cent of the VA's total budget.

By minimizing the PTSD crisis in the veteran community and characterizing veterans' claims as fraudulent, conservatives are trying to create a public climate of acceptance that will allow the VA to go forward with their redefinition of the disorder. That could then lead to a new diagnosis, new treatment protocols and restructured (lower) compensation for veterans.

The VA's effort to seek a new definition for PTSD was outlined in an article I wrote for OpEdNews dot com in December4. That article was also published on a popular, commercial military/veteran web site. Within a few hours, the VA had called the parent company of the web site and demanded that the article be pulled. It was. The editor of the site told me they had to "consider the business model" in making the decision. He indicated that the site could lose valuable advertising contracts with government agencies, such as the armed services, if the article was not pulled.

The long reach of the conservative "spin machine" even found its way into the Washington Post story. In the article, VA spokesman Scott Hogenson is quoted. Hogenson is hardly a "spokesman." Hogenson is a political appointee brought on by the VA to control the spin. Prior to working for the VA, Hogenson was Executive Director of the Conservative Communications Center (CCC). Hogenson was the CCC's "hit man" who badgered any media outlet believed to be disseminating information contrary to conservative policy. The CCC's stated mission is: To provide the conservative movement with the marketing and communications skills and vehicles to deliver their vision and ideas, undistorted, to the American people.

Also quoted by the Post was Chris Frueh, PhD, Staff Psychologist, at the VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Frueh has made a name for himself by conducting studies that try to show fraud among veterans who seek treatment for PTSD. His work is published on the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) web site.

In one of Frueh's latest attempts at research he studied just 100 veterans who sought treatment for PTSD with the aim of proving combat exposure5. His conclusion was that veterans may misrepresent their service record when seeking treatment. He then goes on to discuss the "disability benefit incentive," an issue which has nothing to do with treatment. One is left with the feeling that veterans are routinely committing fraud to get PTSD compensation. Of note is the fact that Frueh lists B. G. Burkett, of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as a co-author of this study.

Frueh's research is flawed and misleading. Veterans who seek treatment for PTSD must go through rigorous examinations and receive a proper diagnosis before they are even considered for compensation. Then, the compensation review process can routinely take five to ten years. If compensation is granted, the veteran must continue treatment to verify the diagnosis and compensation can be raised or lowered depending on "return to function."

Veterans do not just say they have PTSD and get compensation. Frueh's implications of fraud are meaningless and denigrating to veterans with PTSD.

Proof of that came late last year when the VA conducted a review of veterans receiving 100 per cent compensation (about $2,300 a month) for PTSD. In a test group of 2,100 identified by the VA's Inspector General, NOT ONE CASE OF FRAUD WAS FOUND!6

Dr. Sally Satel is also quoted in the Post article. Satel is the AEI's "hired gun" - give her a subject and she'll spin it. Satel has published for the tobacco lobby.7 And she has, while working for the White House, urged "coercive," "intrusive," and "involuntary care" for the mentally ill.8 So, Satel's assertion in the Post article that there is "an underground network [that] advises veterans where to go for the best chance of being declared disabled," rings hollow.

Veterans who suffer from PTSD have much to fear from the Bush administration. They do not trust the VA system. Why? VA Secretary Jim Nicholson has publicly stated that PTSD can be cured9 although there is no medical evidence to indicate that is the case. The VA's former Inspector General espoused the concept that compensation was an incentive for veterans to exaggerate their symptoms.10 VA disability compensation has been likened to welfare11 by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

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Larry Scott served four years in the U.S. Army with overseas tours as a Broadcast Journalist in Korea and the Azores and a stateside tour as a Broadcast Journalism Instructor at the Defense Information School (DINFOS). He was awarded DOD's First Place Thomas Jefferson Award for (more...)
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