Michael Leon: Veterans aren’t lying about PTSD

Michael Leon: Veterans aren’t lying about PTSD

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The Wisconsin State Journal and many newspapers across the country ran an article by national Associated Press writer Allen Breed this month disparaging veterans' disability benefits.

The benefits system is so veteran-friendly that Breed mocks it as "an open invitation to fraud."

The AP article reads like a deliberate hit piece on America's veterans and still provokes outrage.

Long overdue welcome-backs such as the LZ Lambeau event are great. But what our veterans really need is a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system that truly cares for them, not forcing veterans negotiating everyday life to jump through hoops until they give up and go away.

Breed quotes Mark Rogers, a longtime claims specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration, who says: "I could get 100 percent disability compensation for post traumatic stress disorder for any (honorably discharged) veteran who's willing to lie."

Debatable at best, but can Rogers guarantee that he can get disability compensation for veterans who speak the truth?

No chance, say veterans' advocates who compare the process of getting disability compensation to fighting an enemy you can't engage, the infamous Veterans Affairs fog of "delay, deny, and hope you die."

Says one angry Vietnam Army combat veteran, Bob Walsh, an attorney who battles the VA every day on behalf of veterans, "What about the claims of all the honest veterans that languish in the system for decades until they die.

"They freeze to death on the streets or blow their brains out in the garage. The veterans' benefits claims system is a national tragedy, and men like Mark Rogers are the problem, not the solution for our veterans and their families.

"What a great attitude for an employee who is paid to serve disabled veterans."

The Veteran Administration's own office of Inspector General semiannual 2008-2009 report cites fewer than 100 benefits fraud cases per year, and you had better believe that they look hard.

The organization Veterans for Common Sense notes, there "is no widespread fraud problem at VA. Out of more than one million claims per year, less than a score are ever investigated for fraud."

But there have been think tank-inspired attempts to seek out veterans claiming they have PTSD and to discredit them.

A Wisconsin Navy veteran referenced in Breed's article was unjustly caught up in this dragnet.

Keith Roberts was charged and convicted of mail fraud, sentenced to five years in federal prison for accepting disability benefits from the VA for his diagnosed PTSD.

The VA's policy continues to be that veterans have to prove there was a precipitating incident that led to their PTSD - as if trauma is not the natural outcome of exposing anyone to the miseries of war.

Under pressure from veterans groups, the VA is expected to publish more reasonable regulations in the near future.

In February, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts questioned Assistant to the Solicitor General Anthony Yang in federal benefits-related case, Astrue v. Ratliff.

Asked Justice Roberts, "In litigating with veterans, the government more often than not takes a position that is substantially unjustified?"

Yes, he was told.

Roberts found this "really startling."

Mr. Chief Justice, you're right.

What we do to our veterans is startling, and calling their benefits system an open invitation to fraud is outrageous.

Leon, of Madison, writes for Veterans Today and is a public relations consultant.

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