Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day, PTSD Disability claims, and 38 USC 1110

On this Veterans' Day I am thinking of a client who went into the Service with no psychiatric history and got PTSD during Desert Storm. His Army doctor chose not to treat this injury like any other, but instead invented a pre-service personality disorder diagnosis based on undocumented adolescent misbehavior. This got him the soldier out of the mental hospital and the service, without the expense and bother of treating his actual injury. I suppose it helped the doctor and the Army meet their budgets - everybody wins!

Before they put him on the street, the Army told him to fill out a VA disability application, but didn't tell him that the doctor's bogus diagnosis guaranteed summary rejection because there was no service connection. He didn't even get an independent examination.

Now maybe this veteran "should have" demanded an actual evaluation but keep in mind that he's a young guy, not the healthiest camper at this point, and all the Men In Suits are telling him nothing can be done. He, his family and his local community suffered the consequences for 15 years, and these were not insignificant.

Finally someone talks him into going to VA and asking specifically for a PTSD test. The doctors basically go, "Well d'uh!"  and he starts getting appropriate treatment plus disability. From here on out the story is ok, but what about those 15 years?

It's a debt unpaid.

I'd bet cash money that this guy is just one of thousands. It's not as if these injuries don't have expensive consequences; no, the cost of these injuries is carried by the veteran, by their families and maybe by their local communities. The rest of us - so proud to "Support The Troops!" -  are freeloading, skipping out on a debt.

To collect that debt, there is a long and wasteful litigation process that might get justice in this one particular case, but what about the others? Do they all have to sue?

Do we really want 1,000 or more Desert Storm veterans - and God knows how many Vietnam veterans, and the rest - having to lawyer up just to get what we owe them? Are we just hoping that they'll go away or die off to save us money?

There is a fair alternative.

We could treat these cases the way Agent Orange cases are now treated: there should be a registry, not litigation. In particular, if you have service-connected PTSD and were discharged due to mental-health-related behavior, the behavior should be rebuttably presumed to be due to the PTSD, and you get disability as of the date of discharge.

This would take an Act of Congress to make this small change to 38 USC 1110. That's not going to be easy, but if everyone with a Yellow Ribbon magnet asked their Congresscritter for action, we'd see action - there's an election coming up, after all.

It may not be cheap (although come to think of it, it saves court costs so maybe it would save money in the long run). but it's one way to show that all those the Yellow Ribbons and "Thank You For Your Service" are for real or for show.

Ask your Congresscritter and your VSO how they feel about this.

And America's veterans: thank you for your service. For real.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday: Bleedin' Science

I did another "Healthy Volunteer" study today - this time at Fred Hutch Cancer Research . Mostly it consisted of sitting still while a nice lady pumped some blood out of me. I got a juice box, a snack bar, and a check for my troubles - plus some nice conversation.
I don't really have the education to be a scientist but I can do science!