PTSD, Veterans, and a Tired System

Nobody waltzes into a military career and assumes it’ll be easy. There’s an understanding that difficult things will be asked of them and that, should the situation arise, they could be called upon to go to war and defend the nation’s freedom. Yet nobody enters into a service situation expecting bad things to happen. Unfortunately, many leave their military careers and return to civilian life with an array of physical and psychological side effects. Of these afflictions, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most misunderstood.

What is PTSD?

PTSD can be brought on by any number of instances -- wartime or otherwise. While most people get better with time, some survivors of traumatic events actually see their symptoms worsen over time.

As explains, “PTSD is marked by clear physical and psychological symptoms. It often has symptoms like depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other physical and mental health problems. The disorder is also associated with difficulties in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, millions of veterans suffer from mental health conditions and trauma. Roughly 15 percent of Vietnam Veterans, 12 percent of Gulf War veterans, and 11 to 20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans have PTSD in a given year.

While it may seem like a minor problem from the outside looking in, it’s a serious issue with disastrous consequences. PTSD ruins marriages, damages careers, and leads to unhealthy habits (including drug abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts). And if there’s any group that deserves to be given a chance in the fight against PTSD, it’s our veterans.

How the VA Has Historically Missed the Mark

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has its fair share of problems. But the way in which the VA has treated veterans with PTSD over the years has left a permanent black eye on the department.

It wasn’t until 1980 that PTSD was even recognized as a psychiatric disorder. Since then, the organization has tried to treat the illness with drugs, drugs, and more drugs -- and it hasn’t worked! In 2008, under the Obama administration, there was even a concerted effort to stop diagnosing PTSD in order to withhold care and benefits. At the time, Dr. Norma Perez sent out an email to a number of VA clinical employees that contained the following excerpts:

“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, R/O PTSD.”

“Additionally, we really don't or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”

While that instance has since been investigated and dealt with, it speaks volumes about the friction that exists between the VA and veterans with PTSD.

As Berry Law explains, “The VA provides tax-free disability compensation to Veterans with injuries or diseases incurred during active service in the United States military. Compensation can be paid for post-service disabilities related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service. They can also be paid for disabilities that may have arisen after military service but are presumed to be related to their service.”

Unfortunately, the VA disability claims process is incredibly challenging and often requires the assistance of a lawyer and/or personal representative -- something that hardly seems fair considering the circumstances.

The list of ways in which the VA has continued to disrespect veterans with PTSD could go on and on, but the important thing for the general public to realize is that the system is broken. If something isn’t done soon, the situation will become increasingly dire.

Progress Under the Trump Administration

During his campaigning for the 2016 election, candidate Donald Trump made a lot of promises to veterans. Since being elected, President Donald Trump has followed through on many of these promises. He’s fulfilled his commitment to our country’s veterans in tangible ways like:

  • Signing the Veterans Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act
  • Signing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
  • Signing the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act
  • Signing the V.A. Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017
  • Creating a new White House VA Hotline staffed by veterans and family members
  • Launching the online “Access and Quality Tool” for increased transparency
  • Announcing three initiatives to expand access to healthcare for veterans

While all of these are major steps in the right direction, there’s still progress to be made. An act is only a piece of paper until the VA actually follows through and begins providing the right benefits and treatment to PTSD-afflicted veterans.

Looking to a Brighter Future

For veterans with PTSD, the future is often ambiguous. There’s no guarantee of treatment, let alone a cure. But as the Trump administration has shown, people are taking notice. While the VA has historically been as corrupt and disheveled a department as any in the United States government, there’s hope that the times are changing. If so, we can hope and pray that an increased emphasis on PTSD will provide much-needed relief for veterans and their families.