VA backs off review of post-traumatic stress cases
November 11, 2005
BY CHERYL L. REED Staff Reporter
Unable to find extensive fraud, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
announced Thursday it would not launch a massive review of disability cases
involving post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although the VA's inspector general urged a review of such cases -- which
cost the agency $4.3 billion last year in disability benefits -- the probe
had been met with mounting opposition from Congress and veterans
"They faced the possibility that Congress would have told them in a matter
of days not to do this," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.
In a bill pending in Congress, Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) added
an amendment that would have required congressional approval for the VA to
initiate its review of 72,000 post-traumatic stress disorder cases.
Obama urges review of denials
"What remains is the need to review claims that might have been denied,
particularly in Illinois, so that we can close that imbalance," Obama said.
Less than 3 percent of Illinois' disabled veterans are rated 100 percent
disabled for PTSD -- which is one of the highest-paying disabilities.
Thirteen percent of disabled veterans in New Mexico are rated 100 percent
disabled with PTSD.
New Mexico's disabled veterans receive, overall, $12,004 -- the highest
average in the nation. Illinois disabled veterans, on average, receive
$6,961 -- the lowest in the nation.
No fraud found
This summer, the VA examined 2,100 PTSD cases in which documents were
missing and found the problem was largely the result of their
administrators' shortcomings and not the result of fraud.
"In the absence of evidence of fraud, we're not going to put our veterans
through the anxiety of a widespread review of their disability claims," VA
Secretary Jim Nicholson said Thursday.
Veterans and veterans groups were relieved by the VA's decision.
"Ever since I heard about this, my stomach has been in knots," said Louis
Vargas, 58, of Crest Hill. Vargas spent five years fighting the VA before he
was finally rated 100 percent disabled last year after a Sun-Times story
chronicled his document battle with the VA.
"After all we've gone through, how can they come back and redo the whole
situation?" Vargas said. "It's just like a nightmare starting all over
Benefit cuts feared
Obama on Thursday referred to one veteran in New Mexico who was rated 100
percent disabled with PTSD was so worried about the review that he committed
"There were a number of problems in how they were going about it," said Joe
Violante, national legislative director for the national Disabled American
Veterans. "They weren't reviewing denied cases, which led us to believe they
were out to do one thing -- reduce benefits."