VA says PTSD claims up 125%

This is just the beginning. You may think that nine years after troops were sent into Afghanistan that this would be close to the end but then you’d have to think that all other veterans had been taken care of. The fact is, they haven’t been. There were many Vietnam veterans unaware of what was “wrong” with them along with many more wanting nothing to do with the VA. They had heard horror stories about claims being denied leading them to believe they would be subjecting themselves to even more suffering turning to the government they no longer trusted. All of this topped off with the stigma hanging over their heads of being labeled as a “mental cases” or “crazy Nam vet” not worth much at all. It has taken over 40 years to make up for one year of their lives in hell yet there are many more who have not gotten the message yet that help and hope is waiting for them.

The other issue is that they know they will have to wait in a very long, ever growing, line. They will stand behind a quarter of a million men and women waiting over 125 days just to be told if their claim is approved or not. Most of the time when it is finally approved, they do not receive the 100% for a service connected disability like PTSD preventing them from working. They have to fight for the rest of the percentage they should be entitled to. Others will wait until their claim works to the top of the pile only to be informed their claim has been denied or more paperwork is needed to be done.

PTSD claims alone have increased 125% and there have been 200,000 new Agent Orange-related claims, only 30,000 of which have been decided, the department said.

New claims flow into the sea of other claims from other groups of veterans because when men and women were sent into combat, no one thought to make sure the VA was ready for the increase in need war would create.

Veterans Affairs faces daunting job of reducing medical claims backlog

From Jennifer Rizzo, CNN National Security Producer
December 17, 2010 11:20 p.m. EST
A quarter-million medical claims have been in the system for 125-plus days, official says
Secretary Shinsheki had vowed to eliminate that delay time by year’s end
Changes in guidelines contributed to a higher number of claims
Washington (CNN) — Veteran claims for medical benefits are still piled high at the Veterans Affairs Department, despite a major push from the secretary of the department for quicker claims processing.
There are a quarter of a million claims in the system that have not been assessed within 125 days of being filed, according to Mike Walcoff, acting under secretary for benefits. Backlogged claims amount to more than one-third of the cases in the system, a similar ratio to last year.
Veterans Affairs faces daunting job of reducing medical claims backlog

While they wait, bills are not paid if they are unable to work. This adds to the long list of symptoms PTSD comes with. Depression is part of PTSD. Waiting month after month to hear if their service will be honored or not feeds depression along with paranoia because they know what the truth is and justice would not allow them to suffer instead of being taken care of. They see their families suffer because they can no longer provide for them. This builds all of the other symptoms of PTSD as they feel their lives are being threatened while watching it all fall apart.

In combat, the only safe emotion is anger. When PTSD takes over, that is the strongest emotion allowed to come out. The extra battle of fighting the VA feeds anger at the same time it robs them of hope. Advocates tell them the sooner they get treated the better but what we don’t tell them is they will go through hell to get treated. We don’t tell them that while they are suffering, seeing it all turn to crap, they will have to face months, if not years, of fighting the VA to get it. We won’t tell them that getting the help they need may take longer than the reason they need help in the first place.

For Vietnam veterans, most of them served 12 months overseas. One year in hell caused a lifetime of suffering in far too many. According to a 1978 publication from the Disabled American Veterans’ study, Readjustment Problems Among Vietnam Veterans by Jim Goodwin Psy.D, there were well known issues that have since been forgotten as if none of these studies had ever been published. While veterans wait, millions are wasted on repeating what was already known. By 1978 there were 500,000 Vietnam veterans suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder even though the VA had no yet accepted the term. These men and many female veterans ended up fighting to heal at the same time they spent years trying to get the VA to help them heal, which made it all worse.

Trauma is Greek meaning “wound” and it was used because PTSD comes from an outside force after exposure to life threatening events. It really means a wound to a person’s emotional part of their brain caused by the stressful situations creating disorder. In other words, had they lived without the traumas of combat, or in the case of civilians without exposure to other causes, they would not be suffering. But the process of filing claims with the VA and then waiting for their claims to be approved adds more trauma into their lives instead of easing their already wounded minds. If help was waiting for them there would have been less chronically ill lacking the ability to support themselves. It all gets worse as time goes by because what happens in their lives adds to it. The last thing they need is a prolonged battle with the VA.

“The Evolution of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jim Goodwin Psy.D
It was not until World War 1 that specific clinical syndromes came to be associated with combat duty. In prior wars, it was assumed that such casualties were merely manifestations of poor discipline and cowardice. However, with the protracted artillery barrages commonplace during “The Great War” the concept evolved that high air pressure of the exploding shells caused actual physiological damage, precipitating the numerous symptoms that were subsequently labeled “shell shock.” By the end of the war, further evolution for the syndrome being labeled “war neurosis.”

It was also in this study that WWII was addressed going on to say that,

At one point in the war, the number of men being discharged for psychiatric reasons exceeded the total number of men being newly drafted. (Tiffany and Albertson 1967) During WWII 23 percent of he evacuations were for psychiatric reasons.

Yet there were changes made by the Korean War

During the Korean War, the approach to combat stress became even more pragmatic. Due to the work of Albert Glass (1954) individual breakdowns in combat effectiveness were dealt with in a very situational manner. Clinicians provided immediate onsite treatment to affected individuals, always with the expectation that the combatant would return to duty as soon as possible. The result was gratifying.

This response time factor has been known for many years and has been practiced in the civilian world when trauma teams respond immediately after a crisis for the survivors as well as the first responders. The military however has forgotten this lesson which has created more and more troops in need of help but not getting it. When they are lucky they are given medications that include warning labels suggesting it is dangerous to even drive while taking them but these soldiers are not only driving, they are firing and targeted by weapons. Very few receive help from a clinician offering therapy.

But in Korea, psychiatric evacuations dropped to only six percent (Bourne, 1970) It finally became clear that the situational stresses of the combatant were the primary factors leading to a psychological casualty.

Vietnam was different

Surprisingly, with American involvement in the VIetnam War, psychological battlefield casualties evolved in a new direction. What was expected from past war experiences and what was prepared for–did not materialize. Battlefield psychological breakdown was at an all time low, 12 per 1,000. (Bourne 1970)

With troops in Vietnam, older veterans were experiencing the revisiting of ghosts.

As the war continued for a number of years, some interesting additional trends were noted. Although the war progressed, a previously obscure but very well documented phenomenon of World War II, some men suffering fro acute combat reactions, as well as some of their peers with no such symptoms at war’s end, began to complain of the common symptoms. These included intense anxiety, battle dreams, depression, explosive aggressive behavior and problems with interpersonal relationships, to name a few. These were found in a five year follow-up (Futterman and Pumpain-Mindlin 1951) and in the 20 year follow-up (Archibald and Tuddenham 1965)

Even with what was known all these years there are studies being redone to death. A recent study suggested there is no tie between PTSD and sleeplessness but this would mean that millions of family members must not be hearing their veteran scream in the middle of the night or wander around the house in the dark on patrol. This report just came out.

Sleep and PTSD: No firm ties found

Last update: December 17, 2010 – 7:35 PM
Time after time you hear stories of people with PTSD complaining of sleepness nights. It fits the classic conception of the tortured sufferer, awakened in a sweat from visions of some calamity or tragedy.

There’s no dispute that people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) feel that there is a connection between the illness and their inability to get to sleep. But a study conducted by the Minneapolis VA hospital says the evidence is not so clear. While preliminary, the study, conducted by Minneapolis VA psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Westermeyer and his colleagues, shows that more work needs to be done to reach a definitive conclusion.
Sleep and PTSD

This would also mean that troops deployed with medications to help them sleep are no longer needed since the headline says there is no tie between PTSD and sleep problems. Just goes to show what was known back then has been forgotten now. But this is nothing new.

Vietnam had several unique things going on. One was DEROS, Date of Expected Return from Overseas, which was 12 months for soldiers and 13 months for Marines. This kept them thinking that if they survived until DEROS, they could just go back to the lives they had before. It was also termed a war fought by teenagers, which came with the additional problem of the part of the brain controlling the emotions is not fully developed until the age of 25.

Frontal Lobe
The frontal lobe is home to our cognitive thinking, and it is this process that determines and shapes an individual’s personality. In human beings, the frontal lobe attains maturity when the individual is around the age of 25. This means that by the time we are 25 years of age, we have achieved a level of cognitive maturity. The frontal lobe is extremely vulnerable to injury due to its location as it’s in front of the central cranium. The frontal lobe is made up of the anterior portion (prefrontal cortex) and the posterior portion, and is divided from the parietal lobe by the central sulcus. The anterior portion is responsible for higher cognitive functions, and the posterior portion consists of the premotor and motor areas, thus, governing our voluntary movements. The functions of the frontal lobe include reasoning, planning, organizing thoughts, behavior, sexual urges, emotions, problem-solving, judging, and organizing parts of speech and motor skills (movement).
Frontal Lobe

Back to the DAV study and Vietnam veterans

What was especially problematic was that this was America’s first teenage war. (Williams 1979) The age of the average combatant was close to 20 (Wilson 1979) According to Wilson (1978) this period for most adolescents involves psychological moratorium (Erickson 1968) during which the individual takes some time to establish a more stable and enduring personality structure and sense of self. Unfortunately for the adolescents who fought the war, the role of combatant verses survivor, as well as the many ambiguous and conflicting values associated with these roles, led to a clear disruption of this moratorium and to the many subsequent problems that followed for the young veterans.

We still see this happening today when deployments begin right out of high school in many cases and continue on until enlistments are ended. Redeployment study by the Army found that redeployments increased the risk of PTSD by 50% for each time back. Yet this practice goes on when we still have not taken care of the older veterans.

Vietnam Veterans of America have filed suit on behalf of soldiers discharged under “personality disorders” but the hidden truth is, they were victims of this practice as well but no one was fighting for them. To this day it is hard to grasp how many were given less than honorable discharges from Vietnam when it was PTSD just as we see today.

Many men, who had either used drugs to deal with the overwhelming stresses of combat or developed other behavioral symptoms of similar stress-related etiology, were not recognized as struggling with acute subtype. Rather their immediate behavior had proven to be problematic to the military and they were offered an immediate resolution in the form of administrative discharges often with the diagnosis of character disorders. Kormos 1978)

The administrative discharge proved to be another method to temporarily repress any further overt symptoms. It provided yet another means of ending the stress without becoming an actual physical or psychological casualty. It therefor served to lower the actual incidence of psychological breakdown as did the DEROS. Eventually, this widely used practice came to be questioned and it was recognized that it had been used as a convenient way to eliminate many individuals who had major psychological problems dating from heir combat service. (Kormos 1978)

That was what we knew yet it is still going on. The claim backlog is the direct result of two major storms colliding. A congress that was not concerned with the number of casualties who would need to go to the VA and a military with no plan to address the redeployments of young troops. The truth is they were willing to accept the loss of their lives due to enemy forces as well as being wounded by them, but they were not asked if they were willing to suffer because the government was not ready for them. To ask them to come home after care was denied while in the military is reprehensible but it is not new as we can see by what the Vietnam Veterans faced yet they still wait for help, for healing, for justice and care this nation promised them at the same time they fight to make sure no veteran from another war has to suffer the way they did. In the claim backlog pile are new veterans but along with them are veterans waiting and suffering for all these years. Some may say they can wait longer than but considering we lose 18 veterans a day to suicide, time is running out and the pile will get smaller because more will die waiting.

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11 Responses to "VA says PTSD claims up 125%"

  1. Gy Berg  December 20, 2010 at 4:13 am

    Great article. What I can’t understand is why the VA doesn’t have training like the military. New regs come out every month, safety briefs are constantly being done, haz mat safety and training are done on daily basis, yet the VA still is backlogged.

    Do they live in the same world as everyone else, or they like Congress? Who say, “What, gas prices are not that high and groceries are not going up!” Does anyone step in and slap some sense into this entity? Obviously, the system is broken or the people doing the ratings are limited in their decisions.

    Vets are being killed off by their own hands and all the VA can do is state there is a backlog? WTF Why doesn’t someone step in and do something? If their pay was reflective on their output, I bet there would be a change. Take away their jobs and make them unable to function or support their families. Have them thrown out of their homes and vehicles and see how they feel, or be told, you just don’t have what we are looking for in an employee. Everyone makes fun of the Rambo movies, yet it is all so true and still the public makes fun of it.

    The VA needs to find a way before a wave of us start losing it. I called the suicide hotline or crisis hotline for help from becoming homeless, you know what they said? “Sorry, unless you are homeless, there is nothing available to help you.”

    Why do people who served their country, are being questioned, judged and tried by non-service people. If the system is broke, fix it. If the US depended on the VA to win a war, we’d all be under a new flag. THey are here to serve the military veterans, doesn’t sound like they are doing a good job at it. Why do they still have jobs, when I cannot get one. Okay, time for my 80 mg of Prozac, gotta go.
    Semper Fi.

    • Chaplain Kathie  December 20, 2010 at 8:55 am

      Gy, I think you’re talking about COLA and that is tied to inflation but congress did try to get veterans and seniors $250 checks but the GOP blocked it. You are very right though on how this shouldn’t have happened.
      The VA was already having a backlog when troops were sent into Afghanistan and even more so when they were sent into Iraq as wounded were coming back from Afghanistan. More veterans needing help added to the Vietnam Veterans we were finally reaching. This is a report from 2007.

      148,000 Vietnam Vets sought help in last 18 months
      In the past 18 months, 148,000 Vietnam veterans have gone to VA centers reporting symptoms of PTSD “30 years after the war,” said Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He recently visited El Paso.

      Two-tiered system of healthcare puts veterans of the war on terror at the top and makes everyone else — from World War I to the first Gulf War — “second-class veterans”
      by Chris Roberts, El Paso Times
      An internal directive from a high-ranking Veterans Affairs official creates a two-tiered system of veterans health care, putting veterans of the global war on terror at the top and making every one else — from World War I to the first Gulf War — “second-class veterans,” according to some veterans advocates.

      “I think they’re ever pushing us to the side,” said former Marine Ron Holmes, an El Paso resident who founded Veterans Advocates. “We are still in need. We still have our problems, and our cases are being handled more slowly.”
      148,000 Vietnam veterans sought help in 18 months

      The problem was everyone was fighting over everything else and didn’t notice very little was being done to take care of ALL our veterans, new and old. The VA was under Nicholson and he didn’t care much. As a matter of fact, he returned money to congress instead of begging for more to take care of veterans waiting. They had less doctors and nurses in the VA than they had after the Gulf War even though there were two wars going on.
      All in all, the tide is still out and the tsunami is heading in.

    • Eric  December 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

      Thanks for your response Chaplain,

      See, this is the stuff that we don’t know about. We serve, we give all and some lose all and when we need help, we are back to standing in line. We patiently wait our turn to see non-citizens protest being illegal is not a crime. And they get all the aid available, while the Vets and families begin to fall apart.

      Congress has allowed the Banks to take over, and not one bank was injured, lost a limb or sacraficied for this country (figurely speaking). They receive bail-outs and the Vets still wait in line. You are right though. There is a Tsunami heading our way, and Congress still seems to be the highest paid employees in the US, are they really earning they’re paycheck to support its most valuable citizens are they just writing their own paychecks at the cost of Veterans and their families? Time will tell.

      Yes, the richest Representative has one of the largest Veteran and active duty Stations in the country. He is a former Army officer (so he says) and votes continuously against all efforts to support the Vets and military, go figure. You will never see him homeless or on street corner asking for a dollar to feed his family.

      Have a great day Chaplain, and keep the faith alive.
      Gy Berg, retired 2002.

    • Chaplain Kathie  December 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      People like him are part of the “I got mine, screw you club” instead of wanting to help other veterans because they’ve been there and done that. You keep the faith as well because this fight is worth it!

  2. jake  December 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I too want to thank you for your efforts in bringing more understanding to this problematic system we face everyday. I, along with a fellow VietNam Vet, have made a pact to fight these wrongs and do everything possible to make things better for those returning home. May God bless you and your efforts.
    Gary Moreland
    VietNam Vet

    • Chaplain Kathie  December 20, 2010 at 8:40 am

      Gary it is because veterans like you decided to still watch the backs of your brothers that any of this is possible. God Bless you for your service then and now.

  3. ROBERT VN Vet 11th Armored Cav  December 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Fantastic article… Thank you for understanding….
    I myself have been fighting the VA for 10 years now, and even though I’m getting help and treatment at a VA hospital, and have letters from my doctors, the VA still keeps telling me that I’m not rated higher than 30% for PTSD…
    Even the though the VA shrink I have been seeing for 8 years now tells me I should be rated atleast 70%… And he is the Chief of the Behavioral Medicine Service here in Southern California…
    The brain dead in the Los Angeles office need to be fired….
    After I hired Hill&Ponton from daytona Beach,Fla this past January, It took them 5 months to get me 100% service connected, but not for my PTSD but for my cardio problems and after I asked the VA why seeing I have been on SSDI and can’t work, does the VA not recogize that I’m not employable…. Well as I stated, they didn’t give me the increase to 70% for my PTSD, but gave me 100% for my heart problems which the say is secondary to my PTSD, what bulls shit, pardon my French….
    And made it retroactive back to 2004, instaed of 1998 when I had my first heart attack.. So now the lawyers are fighting that as well as the increase of my PTSD…
    It’s was a long hard road just to get this far, as the VA as you stated, drags it out over years and makes us Veterans jump through hoops to get anything done…
    Again, I want to thank you for understanding…

    • Chaplain Kathie  December 20, 2010 at 8:38 am

      Sounds a lot like what they did with my husband’s claim. Six years of fighting and he got 50% prorated back to the filing, then he had to appeal it for an increase up to 70% with 30% unemployability. That was prorated back to the date of his appeal. He could have fought that but by then he was just too drained from all the years of fighting and just wanted to get back to having as much as a normal life as possible. His Agent Orange Claim was approved quicker than anything I’ve ever seen before but I suspect it was because it didn’t cost the VA any extra money. He has been getting great care since his claim was approved but getting it was hell.
      There is a rumor that they do this to save money. If they approve a claim for the full percentage the claim should have, they have to prorate it back to the filing date. If they lowball it, it’s up to the veteran to file an appeal or a new claim.
      In the 90’s a VA doctor told us that for every 10 veterans filing claims, 8 drop out of the system because of the denials. They just give up. I have a feeling that is still going on as well. Studies show that most claims are denied at least once and very few get 100% right away.
      None of you should ever have to fight this battle!

  4. Ralph  December 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I would like to thank you for all the research you did for this article. I will share it with my PTSD Vietnam group. We have fought many battles, first we were ask to fight in Vietnam, later we fought the VA, now will will fight for those who are coming back. We are battle tested and scared from fighting the VA, and we will fight for them as long as there is a Vietnam veteran alive. Again, I thank you for your understanding of what we fight for. Thank you for serving our country.

    • Chaplain Kathie  December 18, 2010 at 12:30 pm

      The study I quoted hangs on my wall. Whenever I do a presentation on PTSD, I take it with me because while it has yellowed with age, it shows how long we’ve known about the ravages of PTSD and how this country has not lived up to the claim of honoring the men and women who serve.

      I am ashamed to admit that had I not fallen in love with my husband back in 1982 I wouldn’t have cared as much. SInce I met him over ten years after he got back from Vietnam, this has been my battle because I saw what it did to him as much as I have seen what is possible when he started to heal. It was not too late for him and is not too late for any of you.

      You guys always amaze me! No matter how badly you were treated, you still had faith in the rest of us to do the right thing. Had you had no hope in us, none of you would have fought to fix a damn thing yet it is us who owe you a debt. Because of what you started after Vietnam, psychologist came to be and trauma teams were created. You all just keep giving back and even though none of you had anyone else fighting for you, you took up the battles for all generations. No matter what I have to go through with all the heartaches this work brings, I don’t regret one day of it because of the strength of the spirit Vietnam veterans carry with them. Thank you for the work you are doing with other veterans~!

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