With soldiers being endlessly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the system that is supposed to provide the injured with disability benefits is broken. So says an independent commission report released this week. The report, put out by the Veteran’s Disability Benefits Commission notes that there is inadequate information-sharing between government departments and there is little communication between doctors and government officials dealing with veterans claims. Worse, the information that needs to be shared is apparently often not very reliable in the first place.
A House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday reviewed the 544-page commission report which details how unresponsive the executive branch and military are to veteran’s medical needs. James Terry Scott, chairman of the independent commission, said at the hearing that there is a lack of expertise among clinicians in army hospitals and that veterans frequently receive inadequate medical advice, especially concerning posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The report chronicled the stunning backlog in processing claims, which the Government Accountability Office first documented two weeks ago. The GAO report found disability payments were delayed an average of six months after the claim was made.
Committee members and Terry spent much of the hearing agreeing that the military needs more doctors who can identify and competently address PTSD. Joshua Kors has chronicled for The Nation has how some military doctors avoid dealing with PTSD by falsely diagnosing veterans with a pre-existing personality disorder instead.
As Kors reported, if the military diagnoses a personality disorder as a pre-existing condition, then it does not have to pay for medical benefits. According to the commission’s report, in the mid-1980s, the Pentagon, as a cost-cutting measure, encouraged military doctors to diagnose veterans with only one condition. That means that if a military doctor can diagnose a veteran suffering from PTSD with another pre-existing condition, the pentagon does not have to provide treatment for PTSD.
Committee chair Bob Filner, a California Democrat, said he hoped he could add an amendment to this year’s military spending bill that would deny the Pentagon this dodge. What about overhauling the entire dysfunctional veterans’ health care system? Filner said that while he strongly agrees with the commission’s recommendations for fundamental change he doubts Congress can take up this matter until next year.
Of course, if Congress continues to fund the wars, the problem will be even more massive next year then it is now.