CHANGE IN THE ELIGIBILITY FOR CARE OF VETERANS AWARDED THE PURPLE HEART
4. REFERENCE: Public Law 106-117, dated November 30, 1999.
THIS VHA DIRECTIVE EXPIRES MARCH 1, 2005
5. FOLLOW-UP RESPONSIBILITY: Health Administration Services (10C3) is responsible for the content of this directive.
6. RESCISSION: This VHA Directive will expire March 1, 2005.
S/ by Frances Murphy, M.D. forThomas L. Garthwaite, M.D. Deputy Under Secretary for Health Distribution: CO: E-mailed 3/1/2000 FLD: VISN, MA, DO, OC, OCRO and 200 n FAX 3/1/2000 EX: Boxes 104, 88, 63, 60, 54, 52, 47, and 44 n 3/1/2000
VA Intergovernmental Affairs
On Wednesday, November 24, ABC's
newsmagazine 20/20 broadcast a story
whose premise was that veterans lie in order to receive benefits for
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). VA Under Secretary for Benefits Joe
Thompson and Dr. Laurent Lehmann, the associate chief of psychiatry and PTSD
programs, were interviewed for the story.
The story had a definite slant, and the
interviewer, Jay Schadler, had a definite point of view. During an interview
of more than an hour -- taped in March in Mr. Thompson's office -- Schadler
asked over and over about the appearance that veterans are on a VA "gravy
train." The implication is that a number of veterans have discovered ways
to cheat the system and fraudulently receive benefits for PTSD, up to
"$3,000 per month tax free" (his words).
To be fair, 20/20
acknowledged that PTSD is real, and that thousands of veterans are receiving
benefits legitimately. But Schadler insisted on what he called the
"common sense" approach that far too many veterans are receiving
benefits in error. He even went on to question why Vietnam veterans are still
coming to VA for PTSD claims 25 years after the war.
Throughout the interview, Mr. Thompson and
Dr. Lehmann tried to educate Schadler about the claims process, and about how
PTSD affects veterans, but Schadler stuck to his premise that this was an
enormous rip-off. He even interviewed a VA claims representative who indicated
that he had personal knowledge of hundreds of claims that had been allowed
PTSD is a medical condition. We know that
Dr. Lehmann was interviewed, and we know he gave compelling information about
the nature of PTSD and other mental health issues VA deals with. Nothing he
said made it to broadcast.
managed in this shoddy piece to undo years of hard work by VA and by veterans'
advocates to recognize PTSD and to encourage veterans to come to VA for help.
With this one story, ABC may have re-stigmatized veterans, and scared them
away from the help they need. That is tragic, and the network's news division
should be ashamed.
Dr. Lehmann patiently explained the
diagnosis and treatment of these veterans to the interviewer, but to no avail.
Mr. Thompson explained that the process of
reviewing claims for service- connected disability does not encourage a
situation in which lying is rewarded. He was ignored.
Near the end of the interview, Mr.
Thompson summed up his concern. He said that as a Vietnam veteran he had seen
a number of negative labels unfairly assigned to Vietnam veterans.
"Please don't add 'charlatan' and 'fraud' to the list," he said.
Unfortunately, that plea never made it on the air.
The resulting story showed what can happen
when a producer and a reporter are closed-minded and care only about how a
broadcast can be made to fit their pre-conceived notions.
VA assures all veterans, their families
and their advocates that its commitment to the treatment and compensation for
PTSD is ongoing. We encourage all veterans who need help to come to VA. We
will continue to process all claims for disability in accordance with the law,
while showing the measure of concern and compassion the American people expect
to be afforded the country's defenders.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
December 1, 1999
November 24 story about how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
grants disability compensation to veterans with post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) will likely have a significant impact, just not the
one you expected.
months your producer and Jay Schadler have been looking for some facts
to back up the suspicion that the stories in the book Stolen Valor are
the norm and not the exception. The fact that they failed miserably
matters is that with one thoughtless piece of "journalism,"
ABC has run the risk of re-stigmatizing vulnerable veterans with a
chronic and debilitating psychological problem. For 30 years veterans'
advocates have been pressing the government to look into the
psychological condition that has come to be known as
20 years (since the diagnosis was officially recognized by mental
health experts), VA has been providing treatment for PTSD and pays a
range of compensation to veterans who suffer from the condition. Only
recently, after years of outreach by the veterans' community and VA
have an increasing number of veterans come to VA to seek help for the
might have undone that work with one 16-minute segment.
we can see no evidence that Mr. Schadler tried to get even ballpark
numbers of "fraudulent" claims from his only other VA
source. He didn't ask why that person did not report his suspicions
that "hundreds" of claims are being rewarded fraudulently.
At one point in the un-aired portion of the interview Schadler said
that there was pressure to approve claims. Of course, he offered no
corroboration or support for this foolish notion.
thought you might like to know the truth.
are 25 million veterans in the U.S. About 118,000 of them receive
disability payments for PTSD from VA. Twenty-four percent of those
veterans are rated as 100-percent disabled.
granting of compensation for PTSD is more complicated than your 20/20
crew was willing to accept.
a veteran needs a diagnosis of PTSD. Our doctors don't look at what
the veteran thinks caused the PTSD. They subject the veteran to tests,
interviews and evaluations. Once that is done, VA's benefits staff
examines the veteran's service record for any evidence that he or she
might have been exposed to a stressor during military service.
Additionally, there are factors that we are required to consider as
situations that presume that PTSD exists. In other words, if a veteran
has a Purple Heart decoration, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Silver Star
or any other "valor" medal, or was held as a prisoner of
war, the condition is presumed to be connected to service in the
veteran's story is not considered to be proof of anything. We look at
military records and apply the facts in accordance with the law. It's
a very fair process, and it works.
clear to us that Mr. Schadler had a point of view and spent months
trying unsuccessfully to prove it. That is unfortunate. It is also
clear that he spent a good deal of time bullying a vulnerable Vietnam
veteran for no good reason. That is inexcusable.
the real story is that Stolen Valor pointed out ABC's lack of
thoroughness in one of its earlier features. If that's the case, Mr.
Schadler should have just apologized for airing a lie, and gone about
his business on legitimate stories.
do not know how many veterans will fade back into America's fabric and
suffer silently as a result of this dreadful piece of work. We'll do
our best to let veterans, their families and their advocates know that
we will not let unsubstantiated charges affect how we do our business.
realize that any commercial television program depends on excitement
and controversy to attract viewers. It is too bad that ABC chose
innuendo over fact, and in doing so did a grave disservice to the
veterans and families who depend on VA for help.