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Veterans Affairs Reviews Post Traumatic Stress Payments

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Veterans Affairs Reviews Post Traumatic Stress Payments

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Veterans Affairs Reviews Post Traumatic Stress Payments

Veterans Affairs Reviews Post Traumatic Stress Payments

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The Department of Veterans Affairs begins reviewing whether it made mistakes in giving checks to tens of thousands of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some veterans worry that the V.A. is using the review to simply save money.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

When men and women come back from war with injuries, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers health care. The most severely injured get disability checks. Now the VA has begun to review whether it made mistakes when it gave checks to tens of thousands of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some veterans worry that the VA is using this review just to save money. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO reporting:

Payment for post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the fastest-growing parts of the VA's tight budget. Between 1999 and 2004, the number of veterans getting disability benefits for PTSD went up 80 percent. And those numbers are growing as troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the VA is taking a second look at nearly 75,000 veterans from current and past wars, ones the VA already said were 100 percent disabled as a result of PTSD.

Steve Robinson runs the National Gulf War Resource Center. He says veterans are already calling him because their cases are being reviewed.

Mr. STEVE ROBINSON (National Gulf War Resource Center): I think it creates stigmatism. You're pulling their records and you're basically saying to the veteran, `We may or may not believe that you're entitled to the benefits that you're receiving; we're going to find out.' What's going to happen is some veterans are going to be really turned off about the fact that they're being called back in. It's almost like your government doesn't believe you. Some of them won't come back.

SHAPIRO: The VA acted after an audit by its own inspector general. That report looked at veterans who got total disability benefits for PTSD. And it raised questions about one in every four cases. In those, VA employees may have failed to get the required proof that a veteran faced some stressful event that could have triggered PTSD. Scott Hogenson is a VA spokesman.

Mr. SCOTT HOGENSON (Spokesman, Veterans Administration): This isn't about fraud, it's not about veterans, it's not about medicine. It's about VA errors in properly documenting stressors. It's about our mistakes. And we want to fix those mistakes so that we can get that documentation.

SHAPIRO: Hogenson said the VA has begun reviewing 2,100 cases pointed out by the inspector general. And in January, it plans to start looking at another 72,000 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, ones who were approved for total disability checks between 1999 and 2004. Hogenson says most of the reviews will be routine, just a matter of looking at a veteran's service records where they'll be proof that the vet was in combat or faced some other stressful situation.

Mr. HOGENSON: And in cases where it's more difficult to get the documented stressor information, that's when we reach out to the veteran and say, `Hey, can you help us out with this?'

SHAPIRO: In those cases, the VA lets a veteran come up with his own proof, like a letter home from the battle front that describes stressful situations, or one written now from a buddy who remembers the same moments of danger. But that's the kind of proof that the VA's own audit said isn't always clear enough. And veterans advocate Steve Robinson says it's the hardest for veterans to find again.

Mr. ROBINSON: These guys are having to come back in, retell their war stories, retell their traumatic events. It's especially hard for Vietnam-era veterans to go back to the unit they were in in, you know, 1970 and contact Sergeant Joe, who--`We don't know where he lives anymore, but I definitely know he was there with me in that firefight.'

SHAPIRO: Leaders of the major veterans groups meet every month with officials at the VA. The August meeting is set for today. Steve Robinson will be there. He and the others will challenge the VA to look into something they say is a more likely outcome when a veteran applies for benefits--not that they get too much, but that they get too little. Joseph Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

STAMBERG: This is NPR News.

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