Army veteran Carlos Correa dreams of starting a business growing lettuce and tomatoes in greenhouses. But the traumatic injuries he suffered as a result of serving in Afghanistan prevent him from working. His wife now cares for him at home. Correa had thought he left Afghanistan unscathed because he was alive and uninjured. But over time, survivor’s guilt, sadness about the problems of veterans he counseled at work, deep-seated anger at an Army superior, and uncontrollable emotions overwhelmed him.
A federal report has found that 62 percent of military personnel discharged for misconduct from 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed with mental illnesses that could have caused their behaviors. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concluded that the military failed to follow policies designed to prevent inappropriate discharge of service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The result is many veterans received less than honorable discharges, making them ineligible for health care, disability benefits, or education aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The GAO said 57,141 service members discharged for misconduct had been diagnosed up to two years before their release with conditions that included: PTSD, TBI, adjustment disorders, alcohol-related and substance abuse disorders, depression and anxiety. The conditions, which the GAO called “signature wounds” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, can affect moods, thoughts and behaviors and may trigger activities such as drug use, insubordination, absence from the military without permission, and crimes, the report states.
Very few veterans take advantage of a Pentagon policy designed to make it easier for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to upgrade their discharge status and become eligible to apply for veterans’ benefits, according to a Yale Law Clinic report. At a news conference Monday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., veterans, and Yale law students, blamed the Department of Defense for not adequately publicizing the policy to veterans with less than honorable discharges. Since new guidelines were announced last year, just 201 of tens of thousands of eligible veterans applied for a PTSD-related service upgrade, according to the report. Blumenthal called the statistic “a staggering, outrageous fact.”
“Veterans on the streets of New Haven or Connecticut or the rest of the country have no idea about this,” Blumenthal said. “It takes a vigorous and rigorous effort, which the DOD committed to and they have failed,” he added.
Two national veterans’ advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, saying it discriminates against victims of military sexual trauma who are seeking VA disability benefits. The suit was brought by Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). They want the VA to change what they consider to be burdensome regulations governing claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that are based on rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. They cite substantial gaps between benefit approvals for these claims compared to higher approvals for other PTSD claims.
The Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic is representing the plaintiffs and filed the suit in federal court in Washington, D.C.
The plaintiffs are asking that the rules conform to those governing PTSD claims based on combat trauma, Prisoner of War status, and fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, which are less stringent than those based on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and are also situations that pose difficulty in obtaining corroboratory evidence. “The VA knows the current process makes veterans who’ve been harmed by military sexual harassment and assault jump through more hoops than other PTSD claimants,” said Anu Bhagwati, SWAN executive director and a former Marine Corps captain.
Veterans’ advocacy groups Thursday accused the Veterans Administration of discriminating against military sexual assault victims seeking benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, saying they receive “significantly’’ more denials than veterans with other types of PTSD claims.
The national figures show “a particularly hostile environment” at the VA for victims of military sexual assault, said Anu Bhagwati, Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) executive director, during a teleconference news briefing, calling the experience of seeking VA benefits “unnecessarily grueling, humiliating and exhausting.”
The report found that women filed two-thirds of PTSD claims based on sexual assault, that it’s the most prevalent reason for female veterans’ PTSD claims, and as a result, women are “disparately impacted” by lower approval rates. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut, the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, and SWAN released a report they wrote based on figures they obtained from the VA after settlements in two lawsuits. The data mainly cover the years 2008 through 2012. During those years, the approval rate for women with sexual assault-based claims ranged from 33.7 percent to a high of 59.2 percent. But, the approval rate for women for PTSD benefits from other issues ranged from 46.7 percent to 72.8 percent.
A recent study that discovered a genetic link to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could ultimately lead to breakthroughs in treatment or prevention, but advances are at least a decade away because additional research is needed, according to the study’s top researcher.
Excess prescription drug use and a “flawed” post-deployment mental health screening process are among the factors fueling an increase in suicides among military service members, a new report by the Center for a New American Security [CNAS] says.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has called on the Department of Defense [DoD] to grant Freedom of Information Act requests from veterans organizations seeking information on the alleged misuse of personality disorder discharges.