November 17, 2008: PTSD (post-traumatic
stress disorder) is becoming big business. The U.S. Veterans Administration is
spending nearly $300 million a year on it (out of nearly $100 billion spent on veterans.)
Lawyers are increasingly soliciting troops coming back from duty overseas, and
urging them to claim they have Combat
fatigue (or PTSD) and apply for disability benefits. Last year, this was big
news in Australia, where there was a similar problem, but the involvement of
crooked lawyers in disability scams has been big business in the United States
for decades. It's estimated that about three percent the 24 million American veterans suffer from PTSD. About ten percent of
all veterans were in combat. Currently, only about half the veterans getting
treatment for PTSD, are receiving disability payments (which largely go to
those who have physical loss). But better detection tools are revealing that
PTSD is more widespread that previously thought. Perhaps 4-5 percent of vets
may have it.
Despite the careful psychological
screening of recruits, there are also many (about two percent of all recruits)
discharged for psychological reasons that are not related to military service.
About fifteen percent of those discharges were for troops who had spent time in
a combat zone. A new policy mandates more careful scrutiny of these discharges,
because of non-service related psychological problems, means the subject is not
eligible for disability payments.
PTSD (also known as shell shock or combat fatigue) usually first
manifests itself while troops are still in the combat zone, if not in combat
itself. This has meant stationing lots
of mental health personnel as close to the fighting as possible. Getting troops
to acknowledge that PTSD is just another combat injury has proved difficult.
But there is progress, albeit slow, in getting the troops to report problems
they are having. But the crooked lawyers will coach troops to exhibit the right
symptoms, and then guide them through the application process, in return for a
portion of the disability payments received.
PTSD was first noted after the American
Civil War. That war was one of the first to expose large numbers of troops to
extended periods of combat stress. The symptoms, as reported in the press a
century and a half ago, were not much different from what you hear today. At
the time, affected veterans were diagnosed as suffering from "Irritable
Heart" or "Nostalgia." Symptoms noted included fatigue,
shortness of breath, palpitations,
headache, excessive sweating, dizziness, disturbed sleep, fainting and
flashbacks to traumatic combat situations. Many of these symptoms were noted
while troops were still in uniform. During the 20th century, the condition came
to be known as PTSD.
The problem with the lawyers assisting
troops in scamming the government for benefits payments is nothing new. It has
been going on for years in the civilian disability insurance and social
security disability systems. Lawyers involved in class action suits, for large
numbers of victims have been caught doing coaching, and records falsification,
on a large scale.
Veterans groups are trying to stem this
sort of fraud, as it diverts money needed by veterans with real injuries, into
the pockets of scammers. With the growing number of combat veterans coming
home, the demand for resources will be higher than it has been for decades.