Wall Street Journal accuses vets of fraud, but doesn’t support claim; vet misses PTSD counseling because doc at Mental Illness Awareness Week event; disabled vets should continue to contribute; VA pushes back against Internet breaches
The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Huang reports that Veterans Affairs’ disability claims increased 44 percent from 2009 to 2013, while the doctors available to evaluate those claims went up 22 percent, “increasing the possibility of fraud.”
Using one retired VA doctor and two cases of fraud discovered by VA’s Office of the Inspector General as proof, Huang wrote a story with the sub-headline, “Some see higher fraud risk as more vets seek compensation, overloading doctors.”
Interestingly, the retired doctor does not complain in Huang’s piece of increased fraud, but instead a lack of “comprehensiveness.” And the March 2013 Government Accountability Office report he cites doesn’t mention the word “fraud,” and instead concentrates on the delays veterans face because VA’s hiring process has not kept up with the workload.
Rather than bringing up the possibility of fraud, GAO said the number of claims went up “as the population of new veterans has swelled in recent years.” The agency also cited new regulations that allowed Vietnam veterans to claim disability for Agent-Orange related diseases, bringing in 260,000 previously denied and new claims—a factor that did not make it into Huang’s story. GAO also found that VA had difficulty getting medical records because of misplaced and lost documents. Those factors also did not merit mention in the Wall Street Journal piece.
Huang also cites an OIG report that shows “it investigates only a small percentage of complaints it receives about possible false claims,” so, instead, he reports that “stolen valor” arrests—which means claiming unearned military awards to gain money, property or other benefits—went up 71 percent since 2009. This is a particularly fascinating statistic because the Stolen Valor Act was enacted in 2013. A previous version, passed in 2006, that made it a misdemeanor to wear an unearned medal, was found unconstitutional because simply wearing a medal was considered an expression of speech—another tidbit excluded from the article. Huang reports that stolen valor arrests “are on the rise, with 72 arrests so far in 2014.” In either version of the law, claiming an unearned medal would not be enough proof to earn a disability benefit from VA.
The story also states that disability payments rose by 53% in 2013 from 2009. The cases increased by about 5 million people, so the average payment would be about $3,600 per veteran, according to a quick run of the numbers. Benefits are higher based on the degree of the injury, so a veteran with a lost limb would be compensated more than a veteran with sleep apnea.
Huang reported that the number of veterans getting compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder more than tripled, and writes that because it’s impossible to see, vets could lie about their symptoms. But others, including USA TODAY’s Gregg Zoroya, have reported that experts expected exactly that increase—if not a higher increase.
“The scientists cite data showing dramatic growth in the [rate of] mental illness after 13 years of war, with numbers of soldiers and Marines who returned from war with PTSD increasing tenfold between 2004 and 2012,” Zoroya wrote. “Slightly fewer than 200,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were found to have service-connected PTSD in 2003. By last year, that number had surpassed 650,000, the report says. And many of those veterans were not seeking treatment at the VA.”
Huang’s conclusion is particularly troubling in light of the years of reporting that has shown that exactly the opposite has happened: Veterans have had to fight hard for counseling and compensation because it’s easy to deny claims when a mental health diagnosis is based on symptoms the veteran reports, rather than that the doctor can see. In fact, David Phillipps and The (Colorado Springs) Gazette won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for a series focusing on how many service members with PTSD are wrongly discharged for misconduct after their service in combat zones, rather than properly diagnosed, treated and awarded compensation.
According to a 2014 Congressional Budget Office report, 9 percent of veterans claimed disability benefits in 2000 after years of peacetime service. In 2013, after two harsh wars and changes to the Agent Orange laws, that percentage had grown to 16 percent. That increase includes everything from a huge increase in musculoskeletal injuries to eye injuries to hearing damage to lung damage: the expected injuries after years of war.
It is entirely possible, and even likely, that some veterans are filing fraudulent claims as VA is overwhelmed by legitimate claims, but Huang’s article does not make that case.
An Indiana woman said she missed her regularly scheduled post-traumatic stress disorder appointment at a Fort Wayne, Ind., VA clinic because the staff was attending a motivational lecture during Mental Illness Awareness Week, reports Military Times’ Patricia Kime.
The woman, who was injured in Kirkuk, Iraq, counsels service members and veterans for a living, and said the monthly VA counseling is necessary because the stress of her job can cause a relapse. But when she tried to reschedule her appointment with VA, they told her she would have to wait for her next regularly scheduled appointment—a month later. She has filed a complaint because, she said, VA violated its own policy by allowing someone other than the veteran to cancel an appointment, Kime reports.
The National President of the Paralyzed Veterans of America argues that veterans are an asset to the country, and they should treat themselves as such. Al Kovach Jr. raved about the new Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., calling it a “sacred reminder of the cost of freedom for our country,” but he also write that veterans need to think about their own futures, as well as what they can contribute to the country.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and a good time to recognize the disparities in hiring, as well as the strengths in hiring, veterans, he said. Veterans with catastrophic injuries have an unemployment rate three to eight times higher than people without injuries, “an unacceptable reality that is best recognized by simply looking around your workplace and noting the few veterans with severe disabilities…working there.” Kovach broke his neck in an accident while parachuting as a Navy SEAL, but he sees his service after his disability as important as before.
“When you are an active duty service member, you are an asset,” he writes. “Having a disability makes you no less so.”
The chief information officer for the VA fears vets will lose confidence in online services if security breaches continue, reports HealthInfoSecurity.com’s Susan D. Hall. CIO Stephen Warren said VA is working to make vets more aware of theft and fraud risks, while encouraging them to take advantage of online services. In 2006, more than 26 million people had their information compromised when a laptop was stolen, and the agency has encrypted all desktop and laptops since then.
Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.