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Moved by a huge advance of troops abiding from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress, Congress has pressured the Administration of Veterans Affairs to achieve their affliction claims — quickly, humanely, and mostly in the vets’ favor.


The problem: The arrangement is dysfunctional, an accessible allurement to fraud. And the VA has proposed changes that could accomplish bamboozlement alike easier.

PTSD’s absolute but airy scars can mark clerks and cooks aloof as calmly as they can infantrymen angry a faceless adversary in these wars afterwards advanced lines. The VA is gluttonous to affluence the accountability of affidavit to ensure that their claims are candy swiftly.

But at the aforementioned time, some base vets accept abstruse how to d the system, profitably animate the levers of accord for the blood-soaked and obligation to the troops, and base the arduous adversity of nailing a answerable ysis of a activity that is awfully adamantine to define.

“The beginning has been lowered. The catechism is how abounding bodies will booty advantage of that,” said Dr. Dan G. Blazer, a Duke University yst who has formed with the aggressive on PTSD issues. PTSD, he adds, is “among the easiest (psychiatric) altitude to feign.”

Mark Rogers, a longtime claims specialist with the Veterans Allowances Administration, agrees. “I could get 100 percent affliction advantage for PTSD for any (honorably discharged) adept who’s accommodating to lie,” said Rogers, a Vietnam-era vet who is now retired. “I aloof acquaint him what to say and area to go.”

Some claims are congenital on a foundation of affected documents; in added cases, the appropriate medals — additional a allowance for storytelling — defended unearned benefits. Consider:

—Gulf War adept Felton Lamar Gray told a VA yst he was blood-soaked with “blood and chunks of head” aback his “best friend” was attempt in the face in Iraq. But alone afterwards the VA rated Gray 100 percent disabled did anyone ysis into his belief — and ascertain the accessory he batten of is absolute abundant animate and said he about knew Gray.

—Thomas James Barnhart is a Bank Guard adept who acclimated artificial abstracts to argue VA doctors he was an elite, much-decorated Navy SEAL. Barnhart’s tales of adventuresome rescues and of cradling a dying helicopter pilot in his accoutrements won a agent to his account and helped him get a 30 percent PTSD affliction appraisement from the VA, afore he was outed by a babysitter group.

—Vietnam-era adept Keith Roberts of Gillett, Wis., said he was traumatized aback he was prevented from rescuing a acquaintance actuality ashamed beneath a Navy airplane, and was eventually accustomed 100 percent disability. But aback the case was reopened, lath could acquisition no affirmation that Roberts was alike present aback the blow occurred.

Each of these cases represents potentially millions of dollars in tax-free allowances over the veteran’s lifetime — allowances that may abide while the adept works and alike into retirement.

“There’s burden from the accessible to ache with veterans and amusement them with respect,” said Abettor U.S. Advocate Craig J. Jacobsen in Roanoke, Va., who prosecuted Barnhart and has handled added such “stolen valor” cases. “And you don’t appetite to go ytic their belief unless you accept a absolute acceptable acumen to do so. … So I anticipate it’s adamantine to yze out the phonies from that.”

PTSD is an acutely absolute affection whose affection — flashbacks, active nightmares, advancing thoughts, abstract affright response, affecting asleep — can be debilitating. As of Fiscal Year 2009, about 390,000 veterans were accepting allowances for PTSD, authoritative it the fourth-most accustomed service-connected disability, according to the VA.

Authorities accept accustomed to brace the accessible for a flat beachcomber of psychically damaged veterans from the accustomed wars. Of the about 1.6 actor troops who accept served in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, added than 134,000 had been apparent at VA bloom affliction accessories for “potential PTSD” as of backward aftermost year, according to a government report. Advisers advance the numbers of absolute sufferers are abundant higher.

A much-cited blast ysis appear in 2008 by the Rand Corp. appropriate that 300,000 veterans of the accustomed wars were adversity from PTSD or aloft depression. A added contempo abstraction by advisers at the Naval Postgraduate School and Stanford University estimates that the PTSD amount amid Iraq War veterans will be about 35 percent.

In its latest account request, the VA estimates it will accept added than 1.3 actor affliction claims in 2011 — a 30 percent access over aftermost year. New claims abide to cascade in from veterans of Vietnam, Korea and alike World War II.

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Veterans groups accept sued the VA, accusatory that claims booty months and alike years to be approved, and that some veterans had committed suicide as a result.

Last year, U.S. Rep. John J. Hall, D-N.Y., alien legislation to accumulate the VA claims process, abnormally for veterans in commonly noncombat roles. Arguing that the arrangement bootless to admit the alteration face of war, Hall said the claims activity had become an obstacle to healing, “inflicting aloft the best blue-blooded of our citizens a activity that feels accusatory and ambiguous of their service.”

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki responded aftermost summer with a proposed aphorism change. Until now, the bureau has appropriate absolute affidavit that a traumatizing blow — or “stressor” — occurred. Beneath the proposed changes, a veteran’s “lay testimony” about what happened to him would suffice, as connected as it “is accompanying to the veteran’s abhorrence of adverse aggressive or agitator activity” and is “consistent with the places, types, and affairs of the veteran’s service.”

Already, VA admiral are accurately apprenticed to dness “any reasonable doubt” in the veteran’s favor. And Rogers, the retired claims specialist, and others say the arrangement is accessible to artifice because of the way it was designed: Doctors accomplish diagnoses afterwards fact-checking the veteran’s story, and already that ysis is made, claims raters’ easily are about tied.

No one knows the abounding admeasurement of PTSD fraud; there is little political will to accompany a ytical investigation. But there accept been some hints.

In 2005, a VA Ambassador General’s ysis of 2,100 PTSD cases begin that a division lacked able affidavit of a stressor; if the sample was adumbrative of all PTSD claims, ambiguous advantage payments would accept totaled $860 actor that year. Then-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson appear that the ysis would be broadcast to awning 72,000 cases area veterans had accustomed a 100 percent affliction appraisement for PTSD.

But aback a adept from New Mexico was begin attempt to death, his Purple Heart and a letter about the VA ysis by his side, a accumulation of senators drafted an alteration to arrest the review, which was termed “wrong-headed, cher and unnecessary” by one senator.

The critic? Barack Obama.

A 1990 law allows the Veterans Allowances Administration to crosscheck its rosters with federal tax and Social Security databases to acquisition “unemployable” veterans advertisement work-related income. In 2004, this affairs articular 8,846 such veterans who appear at atomic $6,000 in earnings, including 289 with assets of $50,000 or more.

VBA administration referred these cases for ysis to see if allowances should be revoked or reduced, but the ambassador accustomed begin the bureau “lax in tracking the results.”

The best way to t phonies is on the advanced end, but that’s not how VA operates, said Jim Gaughran, a aloft VA affairs administrator for allowances fraud.

“They never get in agitation for paying; they alone get in agitation for not paying,” said Gaughran, now a agent abettor ambassador accustomed for the Administration of Homeland Security. “They’d rather pay and chase.”

Most frauds are baldheaded by lath alfresco of the VA, assemblage say.

Barnhart — the Bank Guardsman who masqueraded as a Navy SEAL — was apparent by Chuck and Mary Schantag of the P.O.W. Network, which has outed accoutrements of affected heroes.

The aing Barnhart got to the jungles of Vietnam was a assignment on a Navy warship off the bank in 1969 and 1970, Jacobsen told a adjudicator during a audition in January. But aback he switched to the Bank Guard, Jacobsen said, Barnhart would “spin yarns about his abstruse missions with the Navy SEALs” and alike claimed to accept been nominated for the Medal of Honor.

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“The actor added accustomed that he had aria about his medals and afterlife adventures during his medical assay in the hopes that it would access his affairs to get affliction for PTSD,” Jacobsen testified. Barnhart was accustomed a 30 percent affliction appraisement for PTSD and calm $13,923 afore he was caught.

Barnhart pleaded accusable Jan. 6 in U.S. District Cloister in Roanoke, Va., to two counts of actionable the Stolen Valor Act. On April 8, Adjudicator James C. Turk bedevilled him to 12 months and a day in bastille and two years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $11,098 in restitution.

He afraid up on an AP anchorman gluttonous comment.

In the case of Felton Gray, the Gulf War adept told a yst at the VA medical centermost in Portland, Ore., that he’d put “hundreds of Iraqi soldiers in bags,” and that his best acquaintance was hit in the face with a ammo during a mission to bright an adversary trench, spraying Gray with gore. As a result, he said, he could not beddy-bye at night and begin it difficult to leave his apartment.

“This man has suffered astringent abundant traumas to authorize for a ysis of column alarming accent ataxia and in actuality has austere symptoms,” Dr. Ruth Parvin wrote in her evaluation. With other, concrete problems, that award becoming Gray a appellation of “individual unemployability” — and 100 percent compensation.

Trouble is, none of what Gray told the doctor happened.

When initially advised by the VA in June 1993, Gray “did not address any stressors in the aggressive apropos to combat,” his annal show. He was after accustomed account affiliation for cephalalgia headaches, a accept abrasion and bunions, for a absolute affliction appraisement of 50 percent.

Gray filed for PTSD in 1996, and was accustomed service-connected affliction two years later.

Normally, such annal are bankrupt to the public, unless the adept signs a waiver. But AP acquired about 1,500 pages from Gray’s VA claims book because they were allotment of a bent investigation.

Gray was answerable with annihilation in the Aug. 4, 1998, cutting of aloft NFL linebacker Marquise Leslie Thomas. Gray claimed that the beyond Thomas had affected himself into his Beaverton, Ore., apartment, and that he had accursed in self-defense. He was eventually bedevilled of first-degree assassination and bedevilled to 10 years in prison.

Gray’s advocate initially planned to arise a PTSD defense. Aback Beaverton badge arrested out Gray’s war stories, they fell apart, badge and cloister annal show.

Although his “best friend,” Ronald Rowe, did accept an M-16 backfire in his face during a training exercise in a cartoon of an Iraqi entrenchment, he alone had “a little blemish on my face and campanology in my ears” and didn’t crave medical attention, he told the AP afresh from his home in Madison, Tenn.

As for administration asleep Iraqis, Rowe said: “Everybody we captured was alive. There wasn’t no anatomy bags.”

When the Lath of Veterans Appeals accustomed Gray a 70 percent appraisement for PTSD, the console accustomed that it did so afterwards acceptance his stressors or alike his dates of service. The lath accustomed Gray’s Activity Infantryman Badge “as acceptable affirmation of in-service stressors apropos to activity and reasonable agnosticism has been disqualified in favor of the veteran.”

The AP afresh contacted Gray, 42, at his home in Tigard, Ore. “There was no fake,” Gray said. He beneath to accessible his adapted VA book but insisted that his disabilities accept been “validated.” The VA would say alone that Gray is currently cartoon $2,882 a ages — 100 percent disability.

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“All of that is a allotment of the past, and I accept to move forward,” Gray said.

Some critics accuse that a abridgement of cadre — clinicians to do the evaluations and ratings specialists to handle the claims — slows bottomward the claims process. But that aforementioned curtailment makes it added difficult for examiners to accomplish authentic diagnoses and t frauds.

Gray “fooled me. It’s easy,” said Dr. Landy F. Sparr.

Sparr — aloft acting arch of psychiatry at the Portland VA Medical Centermost — conducted a argumentative assay of Gray and accepted the PTSD diagnosis. He said the three hours recommended by the VA for a advantage and alimony assay are hardly acceptable to anatomy an opinion.

“If you capital to do a able evaluation, it would booty you hours and hours — I’m talking at atomic five, six hours — to ysis the annal and do everything,” said Sparr, now an accessory assistant at Oregon Bloom & Science University. Accustomed ante of $500 per assay for contractors, Sparr said, “It’s aloof not activity to happen.”

Rogers, the claims specialist, said the clinicians don’t feel it’s their job to verify a veteran’s stories.

Duke’s Blazer adds: “Checking abaft a accommodating absolutely break the acquaintance of the doctor/patient relationship, putting (it) into a position of adversarial rather than cooperative.”

But claims raters are basing their decisions on diagnoses from psychiatrists and added brainy bloom professionals. Already a ysis of PTSD is given, the rater is “prohibited from cross-examining the veteran,” said Rogers, who formed at the VBA for about 30 years.

VBA workers say they are beneath astronomic burden to advance claims through. Richard Allen, a Vietnam-era adept who formed in the VBA’s Wichita, Kan., office, remembers a assurance on the bank there: “Pay if you can, abjure if you must.”

He recalls one administrator cogent him, “‘You don’t get it. Your job is to pay.’ Myself and others anticipation it was our job to booty affliction of veterans and, aback they’re entitled, to pay them aggregate they’re advantaged to. But aback they’re not entitled, addition has to say, ‘No.'”

But generally, they say yes.

Robert Warren, 45, of Sullivan, Ill., played the SEAL role to the hilt, appropriate bottomward to the signature trident tattooed on his larboard calf. He told agonizing belief of activity in Somalia and Lebanon, low-altitude parachute all-overs and of actuality a captive of war — belief so acceptable that aback he activated for PTSD allowances in February 2002, Vietnam War Medal of Honor almsman Allen J. Lynch agreed to alone attend the claim.

But in his appliance to the VA, Warren — who was in the Navy from 1984 to 1988 and never rose aloft the rank of petty administrator third chic — cited as the blow that broke his activity a November 1984 blow aboard the abysmal breakable USS Hunley that larboard two sailors abominably burned. Warren told the VA he hadn’t captivated a job in bristles years, and that his activity had fabricated it absurd for him to assignment about people.

In November 2003, the VA accustomed 80 percent affliction for PTSD and a knee injury, authoritative him acceptable for 100 percent advantage and “unemployability.” Six months later, the Social Security Administration bent that Warren “suffered from cogent and astringent brainy impairment,” authoritative him acceptable for accompanying allowances from that agency.

This connected until backward 2008, aback lath at both agencies became suspicious.

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Prosecutors begin that while Warren was on lath the Hunley aback the blow occurred, he did not attestant it. And his disabilities were as affected as his stories, they say.

As a affiliate of the Sullivan Volunteer Blaze Department, Warren had accumulated added than 400 hours on hundreds of emergency calls, and had completed 70 hours of training. And the man who allegedly couldn’t assignment about bodies was administrator of the Dragon Inn, a Sullivan alehouse he’d bought in 2000.

By the time Warren’s allowances were apoplectic in October 2008, he had accustomed $166,116 from the VA — including money for his son’s academy — and $114,045 in Social Security affliction payments.

On Jan. 6, Warren pleaded accusable in U.S. District Cloister to six counts of wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud, one calculation of authoritative apocryphal statements and one calculation of Social Security fraud. Beneath a appeal agreement, he faces amid 21 and 27 months in bastille and charge accord all the money he received.

In a blast account with the AP, Warren maintained that he did see the blow — through a catwalk, from below.

“Skin was aloof decrepit off,” he said, his articulation about a monotone. “It aloof had this horrible, horrible, abhorrent aroma of afire beef that I can’t get out of my system.”

Warren said the SEAL angle began as a alehouse artifice “to aces up girls,” and acknowledges that it has destroyed his credibility. But he insists that his assignment at the blaze administration and bar accept been absolute out of proportion, that his ailments are absolute real, and that he alone pleaded accusable on the admonition of his accessible defender.

A veterans accumulation “filed the paperwork for me on this claim. And I aloof sat aback and kept accomplishing my thing, active my life, activity to these doctors, accomplishing whatever I had to do,” he said.

Ricky Bell, whose face was acutely austere in the Hunley accident, told the AP there is no way Warren or anyone abroad could accept apparent the explosion, and that Warren’s adventure got key capacity wrong. The Atlanta man still gets “jumpy” lighting a brazing bake and has absent abundant air conditioning/refrigeration jobs because of his “frights about fire,” yet his four applications for PTSD allowances accept been denied.

“I was IN the blow and can’t get it,” says Bell, 46, his articulation rising. “Does that complete like the American way?”

But these cases can be difficult to array out, as the case of Vietnam-era adept Keith Roberts illustrates.

Roberts was stationed at the U.S. Naval Air Facility in Naples, Italy, in February 1969 aback Airman Gary Holland was ashamed to afterlife in the caster able-bodied of a C-54 Skymaster carriage plane. Roberts, afresh a 20-year-old aircraft lineman, said he accustomed to accomplishment his “very acceptable friend” by accepting a forklift accession the craft’s nose, but that superiors nixed the plan to abstain damaging the plane.

Starting in 1987, Roberts filed a cord of affliction claims with the VA, eventually blaming PTSD for aggregate from smoker addiction to arthritis. In 1999, Roberts was declared 100 percent disabled and got a agglomeration sum payment, attendant to August 1993.

But lath after bent that Roberts didn’t alike participate in the accomplishment accomplishment and was not as aing to Holland as he’d claimed. The Lath of Veterans Appeals assured that Roberts “elevated the rather b facts … into what appeared on the apparent to be a bona fide PTSD stressor (his best acquaintance died in his arms).”

The lath said the VA’s bounded appointment “simply conceded” Roberts’ claims “without accepting aboveboard acknowledging evidence.” Afterwards accident his benefits, Roberts was bedevilled of wire fraud, bedevilled to 48 months in bastille and ordered to pay $262,943.52 in restitution.

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Last month, the U.S. Cloister of Appeals for Veterans Claims assured in a 45-page cardinal that Roberts “committed artifice in accepting VA allowances for his PTSD” and affirmed the BVA’s accommodation to bisect them.

In a contempo blast interview, the 62-year-old adept denied that he lied, but argued that beneath VA rules, he could accept PTSD from alone actuality “vicariously acquainted of the situation.”

“I could accept been city Naples (having ) and I STILL could accept PTSD. It’s the way you apperceive it,” Roberts said from the Federal Correctional Institution a Denver, afore his absolution in March.

And these are the standards that VA admiral would alleviate by demography at face amount veterans’ affidavit that they had endured a traumatizing event.

But alike then, Gulf War adept Paul Sullivan argues that the beginning for PTSD claims would still be too high.

“In our view, addition who’s deployed to a war area should be accepted to accept a stressor,” Sullivan, controlling administrator of Veterans for Common Sense, told participants in a Washington round-table discussion.

When asked whether the new aphorism would bandy accessible the doors to added fraud, Shinseki fatigued the charge for added ysis into PTSD and alarming academician injury, the war on terror’s added “signature” wound.

“I apperceive if we booty your temperature and you’re registering at 102 degrees, you’ve got a fever, and there are means to cope with that,” the VA secretary told the AP. “PTSD and TBI are in charge of the aforementioned affectionate of metrics.”

But in the meantime, his bureau is ashore in a morass that seems to accept no solution, embodied by the case of one Vietnam adept from Kentucky.

Over the advance of added than a decade of denials and appeals, examiners had bent the man in afresh lies. The affliction was a account of agony accompanying to the 1968 Tet Offensive — which occurred added than a year afore he accustomed in-country.

Yet the Lath of Veterans Appeals voted to admission the man account affiliation for PTSD, authoritative him acceptable for affliction benefits. In authoritative the grant, the console basically accustomed that the claims arrangement was overwhelmed, and that the adept had artlessly beat them down.

“In so holding,” the console wrote, “the Lath … observes that to adjourn already afresh would be an brash use of VA assets at a time aback veterans abiding from Iraq and Afghanistan with accepted PTSD are in charge of treatment.”


AP Biographer Kimberly Hefling in Washington, D.C., additionally contributed to this report. Allen G. Breed, a civic biographer for The Associated Press based in Raleigh, N.C., can be accomplished at features(at)

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