NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 3, 2006

According to a report from its inspector general, the Department of Veterans Affairs is now paying compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder to nearly twice as many veterans as it did just six years ago, at an annual cost of $4.3 billion. What's more surprising is that the flood of recent applicants does not, for the most part, consist of young soldiers just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather they are Vietnam veterans in their 50's and 60's who claim to be psychologically crippled now by their service of decades ago, says Sally Satel of the American Enterprise Institute.

Indeed, 40 percent of last year's recipients left the military 35 to 49 years ago; they now receive up to $2,300 a month for life. But can it really take 40 years before veterans realize they can no longer cope with the demands of civilian life?

The Veterans Affairs Department now differentiates between several categories of delayed-benefit applicants. They are:

  • Chronically afflicted veterans who never received adequate treatment after discharge; thus they are good candidates for long-term care and subsidies.
  • Those experiencing genuine "reactivated" symptoms from war trauma; such patients need therapy instead of long-term support.
  • Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder decades after their military service; such patients deserve helpful treatment, but rarely long-term disability payments.

The Veterans Affairs Department should be spending its time and money helping our newest veterans now, when the psychological consequences of war have fresh meaning and patients have an excellent chance at recovery. Decades after a war is too late to make sense of post-traumatic stress disorder, says Satel.

Source: Sally Satel, "For Some, the War Won't End," New York Times, March 1, 2006.

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