V.A. Forced to Address Mental Health Care Crisis

Surviving the war means a lifetime of psychological battles

The author is a former U.S. Marine infantryman who served in Iraq in 2005 and is a member of March Forward! 

In the midst of scandals, declining support for the occupations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and undeniable criminal negligence resulting in the homelessness, drug addiction, and suicides of thousands of veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been cornered into submission. It has been reported that more active duty soldiers and Marines commit suicide every month than die in combat. This statistic in conjunction with the projection of mass casualties as the war in Afghanistan escalates, has forced the VA to issue a new set of procedures that will ease the process for veterans claiming post traumatic stress disorder. 

The New York Times reported on July 7 that the government is in the process of issuing new regulations that will “make it substantially easier for veterans who have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder to receive disability benefits.” This new procedure will eliminate the current requirement that veterans provide documentation of specific events such as bomb blasts, fire fights or mortar attacks that may have triggered PTSD. This gives any veteran who has served in a combat zone, in a job consistent with the events that they say caused their condition, the ability to claim PTSD without proving specific events. In addition, any veteran with a legitimate fear of traumatic events will be covered.  

Like all U.S. government plans, there is a plethora of fine print in these proposed changes. Fine print that, based on the history of the VA, will most likely result in the further suffering of our veterans. All filed cases of PTSD are required to go through a final determination process by a psychiatrist or psychologist who works for the VA.

This regulation means that a diagnosis from a veteran’s private physician is not admissible. Tom Pamperin, the associate deputy under secretary for policy and program management at the VA stated, “VA and VA-Contract clinicians go through a certification process. They are well familiar with military life and can make an assessment of whether the stressor is consistent with the veteran’s duties and place of service”.

A revealing e-mail

However, an internal e-mail made public in May 2008, entitled “Suggestion,” reveals the real reason for this clause. The e-mail states, “Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder rather than PTSD.”

It is obvious that the actual reason behind this “Suggestion” is to control the number of filed cases that receive benefits. As of 2001, 2 million service members have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. It is projected that 20 percent will suffer the horrible effects of PTSD. Over 150,000 cases of PTSD have been diagnosed by the veterans’ health system, yet records show that the VA has approved only 78,000 cases, according to Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. 

Proposed changes fall short

For the women who put their lives on the line, the proposed changes do not go far enough. Currently, over 250,000 women serve in the U.S. military. While the new guidelines may help more women who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan obtain benefits for PTSD, the regulations do not address PTSD caused by rape and sexual harassment. While one out of three female veterans report military sexual trauma, only one of 10 rapes is even reported. These statistics make it clear that the U.S. government along with the VA have no intention of taking care of female veterans, whether by protecting them from rape while in the service or giving them the health care they need upon returning home. 

The immediate projected cost of the new regulations is $5 billion, with a total cost of $42 billion over the course of 10-plus years. This is nothing short of a slap in the face to all veterans when compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars given to Wall Street. In 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were given $400 billion and American International Group was given $180 billion. The Troubled Asset Relief Program gave a total of $700 billion to the Capital Purchase Program,, the automotive industry, AIG, the Mortgage Loan Modification Plan, and Goldman and Sachs and other big banking and insurance corporations. As if that were not enough, as Marines, soldiers, and other veterans commit suicide at record numbers, Goldman and Sachs made sure to set aside $16.2 billion to “reward its employees”", as reported by the New York Times, January 21. 

The announcement that the VA will relax its strict guidelines for diagnosing PTSD comes on the heels of the deadliest month yet for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Every general and politician is claiming that the casualty count will continue to climb. Public support for the war is dwindling. With the already abysmal track record for treating returning veterans weighing on its reputation, the VA is now attempting to improve its public image to quell the opposition to sending thousands more young men and women to be killed, maimed and traumatized.   

A process that is more fair to veterans is a welcome development. Nonetheless, the U.S. government has knowingly sent us to kill and die for the profits of a tiny few. They have sent us to endure horrible physical and psychological wounds, and now they expect us to be thankful when they offer us a band-aid!  

Here is the real solution to the PTSD crisis: ending the criminal, immoral wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Veterans are under attack, not by an enemy in far away Iraq or Afghanistan, but right here, in the very country for which soldiers give their lives. While Wall Street banks and oil companies report record profits, veterans are coming home to the streets broke, alone, addicted and wounded. It has been made perfectly clear by both the government and the VA that the number one priority is profit and returning veterans are nothing more than a liability. The only way for veterans to break this cycle and shut down the war machine is by laying down their arms and refusing to fight for these criminal occupations. 


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