June 12, 2012: For the last six years a growing number of lawyers have been contacting American troops coming back from duty overseas and urging them to claim they have Combat fatigue (or PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder) and apply for disability benefits. It's reached the point where 45 percent of the 1.6 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are now applying for disability payments. About a third of those applying have received disability payments (a monthly check, for varying amounts). As recently as the 1991 Gulf war, 21 percent of the veterans of that campaign (which only included a hundred days of large scale combat) applied for disability. Before that it was even less.
This scam has also shown up in other countries, like Britain and Australia. This sort of thing should be no surprise, as the involvement of crooked lawyers in disability scams has been big business in the United States for decades. It's a growing problem that has come to involve such huge sums (over $100 billion a year) of fraudulent claims that there are growing calls to do something about it. The lawyers hustling for veterans to apply for disability became more common in the 1990s. The lawyers get a percentage of whatever their client receives in disability payments, making many lawyers very rich.
PTSD usually first manifests itself while troops are still in the combat zone, if not in combat itself. In the last decade this has meant stationing lots of mental health personnel as close to the fighting as possible. There are also better tools for diagnosing PTSD and more effective drugs and other treatments for it. 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. Late in 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.