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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Iraq, Afghanistan Wars and PTSD: Just Fraud?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 15th 2008

 It has come to my attention that there is a sentiment being circulated that GI's who are claiming disability benefits based on PTSD are just taking advantage of the system when, in fact, nothing is wrong with them. In fact, I have heard friends and neighbors state the opinion that soldiers during past wars, such as World Wars I and II, suffered no such disabilities while going through the same war time experiences and worse, than soldiers today.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed because it is inaccurate. Let me hasten to say that there will always be a few sociopathic types of people who look for loopholes in order to collect undeserved monies. It is also true that these types can ruin it for everyone else by setting an example that some people use to generalize to the entire group. The fact is that PTSD resulting from war is very real and disabling. Here is an explanation of how it works.

Iraq is not the first war in which something akin to PTSD has been identified. In the First World War it was referred to as "shell shock," and in the Second World War it was called "combat fatigue." Even further back, history is filled with stories of soldiers manifesting similar types of symptoms. The understanding of those symptoms varied according to the values of society at the time. During the Napoleonic era, most solders manifesting anything like PTSD symptoms were labelled as cowards and immediately executed.

It was the in advent of the 20th century, with its greater understanding of human psychology, that attitudes started to change. The result today is that we have a much keener understanding of how the brain and neurological systems work and what happens to people when they reach a level of stress and trauma greater than they are able to cope with.

I come from the generation whose fathers and uncles served in the armed forces during the Second World War. As young adults, many of us talked about these relatives and how they were affected by the disastrous things they had to do and what they witnessed. More than a few of us had emotional difficulties growing up because our fathers, uncles and relatives were not quite there, had bad tempers, tended to drink more than they should, and had difficulty being warm and accepting.

In fact, this concept, that there is a level of stress and trauma beyond which people are no longer able to cope, is enormously important. The fact is that each individual has a very different level of tolerability of stress and trauma. Genetics, physical conditioning, and experiences beginning with early childhood, among many other constitutional and physiological factors affect each person's ability to cope with trauma.

An example would be of a veteran I know who functioned quite well through several wars until the Iraq experience sent him over the edge into PTSD. When something would happen to cause him to experience a flash back, one had only to see how he broke out in a sweat, gasped for breath and was unable to talk, to understand that he was not pretending. In other words, each person has a tolerance level that is set partially by their physiology and partly by the numbers and intensity of traumas they went through from the moment they were born.

Another example was of a soldier I knew and treated for marriage difficulties who was not receiving compensation for PTSD. He grew up in an abusive and violent family. His neighborhood and the schools he attended were equally violent, so that he was surrounded by violence and the perceived need to constantly fight for himself. He joined the Marines and served successfully and heroically in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, now honorably discharged and with many well deserved medals, he had a violent temper, carried a gun with him and had great difficult getting along with his wife. He was suffering from PTSD but would not admit it because his entire life he had been surrounded by violence. His attitude was that he had always been this way and he totally rejected that he had PTSD. Ultimately, he left therapy and I don't have information about what happened to their marriage.

In the event that you are one of the readers who believes that PTSD is a myth, then I want to leave you with a somber fact to stimulate your thinking. The fact is that there has been a shocking increase in the number of suicides among Iraq soldiers as never seen by the United States in past wars.

Your comments and opinions are welcome

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Napoleon and PTSD - Guy Lamunyon - Jun 27th 2013

Napoleon developed a retreat for soldiers with PTSD. His military surgeons gave a proper diagnosis and a specified treatment was developed. A better review of history is suggested.

Guy C. Lamunyon MSN, RN

Combat Medic, 101st Vietnam

Lieutenant Colonel

Army Psych Mental Health Nurse, Retired

What a SCAM - John - Jun 7th 2013

Wow talk about free money, heard this lady walking to take shower, this other lady tells her if she heard about a motar going over the base, she gets out of the Air Force claims for PTSD gets 50% disability for something she never every.  No record of a mortars  near that Base that day.  Mostly it's the VA fault of giving out this type of disabilities.  Sleep abnia is another one which any body not in military can get.  Think if you get a illness that you can get in civilian life should not be service connected.  Also how do get all this disabilities after retirement and not while still in service.  There are a lot of  combat veterans that do have PTSD but get denied by VA.  Non combat veterans get more than those that are really putting their life's for their country.  VA is to blame for all this.  Sorry fomisspelled words.

The whole sytem is collapsing. - curious george - Mar 29th 2013

First of all, to all who have served with and who continue in honor and integrity; I salute you.

But, just like Social Security disability, the VA is being hit and HIT HARD by scammers and only an naive person or a flat-out fool would suggest otherwise. 

This is not only true in alleged PTSD cases, but I’ll limit this to PTSD claims.

I’m a veteran who has worked for the VA for 25 years and now work for a state agency that processes claims for Social Security disability benefits.  Every month of every year it gets worse and worse. If you knew the scope of the abuse you would want to puke, especially if, like me, you have been contributing money to the system for many years.  Scumbags, scammers and lawyers (sorry for the redundancy) are shredding it to pieces like fast flying fighters on a fleet of slow-moving bombers.

Making the VA scams worse though, is the reverse-stigma attached to PTSD claims - with Social Security claims, one is merely claiming to be disabled (which is disgusting when not true as is MOSTLY and even more so in cases where parents instruct their children to misbehave in order to qualify for benefits). 

With PTSD, one is not only claiming a disability,  he is also claiming, in effect and at least to some extent, to be a war hero.  It’s sickening. 

What makes it even more sickening though are liberal 'experts' who attempt to squelch those who speak the truth and dare even suggest that the system is being abused.

I know the score - I see it every day and I have seen it every day for 30 years.  Our whole system is collapsing but the bloodsuckers and their lawyers don’t mind so long as the checks keep coming in, and at someone else’s expense.



To the gentleman who called it Peope that shouldve died - KMack - Apr 26th 2010

Thank you, I myself am a Combat vet from Iraq. I lost a lot of good friends and a soldiers. It sux. I live with it everyday.. To say you dont have it and to had been through just as much as I, your full of it.. I seen and done alot of things over there i cant take back, theres things i wish had done as well. thx for taking the time to put this sight toghether.

I am a combat veteran and I have seen fakers - - Dec 29th 2009

I am a 20 year Marine infantryman who has served multiple combat tours in Iraq (battle of Fallujah in first tour) and Afghanistan.  I've been in multiple firefights and seen carnage up close and personal.  My leg was mangled by an IED on my first combat tour and it almost required amputation.  After a year of surgeries and therapy, I went back to the infantry and served subsequent combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I deal with continual pain from my injuries, but I don't have PTSD. 

I have met multiple servicemen since my first tour who never saw combat nor carnage but spent their entire tour on a FOB, yet they try claiming PTSD.  Most of these people had substandard integrity well before their tour.  They were usually out of the military, out of work, short on cash, and looking for income.  One individual I know well spent his entire tour on Camp Victory (Iraq), took a few mortar rounds that didn't come close, and is now claiming PTSD.  He is also claiming traumatic brain injury (TBI) for a traffic accident he was involved in on the camp.  It has been a couple years since his tour and he has told me all of the details of that tour, yet nothing I have seen or heard from him supports his PTSD / TBI claim.  He is short on cash and looking for easy income.

I've served with and been in command of servicemen that had bona fide PTSD or TBI, but they often try to hide it.  These are people who truly need help.  However, we shouldn't give blindly accept that every PTSD / TBI claim is legitimate.  There are fakers and they will exploit the system to the detriment of the real cases.

I have seen it - - Dec 13th 2009

 I am retired from the air force and my brother who only served nine years gets more ptsd fraud money from the va then I receive in military retirement pay. My brother never went to war. He was stationed in england in 1988 and said he took leave to attend an air show in germany. Two italian planes hit each other in mid air and crashed into the people watching the show on the ground. Many were injured and killed . My brother said he saw all of this and now has ptsd. He did his homework and learned all about ptsd symptoms. He did take leave to go to germany but not at the time of the air show!! I reported the fraud to the va inspector general but they told me if they do not spend all the money they receive they will not get as much the next year . What a joke !!! I know for a fact there is ptsd fraud in the va and you can not tell me any different.. As a retired member of the air force I have seen it first hand!!!!!!!!

PTSD diagnosis is highly expoited - - Jul 3rd 2009

If you look at the histories of individuals claiming PTSD, whether soldiers or civilians, you also find a disproprotionate rate of criminality, rebelliousness, parasitism, exploitation. The motivation is financial and the claims are confabulated or grossly exaggerated. It's politically incorrect to say so, but that is the truth. I once heard an ex-combat vet scream aloud while in the midst of a claim for disability benefits: "I have nightmares, give me my money"; he previously complained that he had troube dating women because he had no money. He was a low life drug addict and criminal. Just because you're a vet, doesn't mean you're honorable. The military is full of scumbag parasites.

Editor's Note: I can't say that I agree with this commenter, but I do want to address one part of the comment - the idea that veterans claiming PTSD are disproportionatly prone to "criminality, rebelliousness, parasitism, exploitation". There is an assumption of cause being made here: rebelliousness => fraud which I think is unwarrented, completely apart from the question of whether the basic statement about the fraud is true. It was pointed out to me repeatedly by my supervisors at the VA hospital where I worked in the mid 90s that a disproportionate number of the chronic Vietnam era PTSD affected veterans had very difficult childhoods with a fair amount of neglect and abuse having occurred.  Instead of making the assumption that "rebelliousness" causes "PTSD fraud", it may just as easily (and perhaps more soundly) be the case that some earlier third thing "abusive difficult childhood" can lead to vulnerability to both of those things, without requiring the one to cause the other.

Politically Correct - - Apr 19th 2009

I work inside the disabilities system. There is constant pressure to simply allow anyone claiming PTSD to go through the system unchallenged. I was stationed at a  FOB in Iraq, our FOB had3 rockets fired at it during our whole tour, The closest impact was over  a mile from any living or working area. It hit in the trassh pit. Yet several individuals have claimed that they have PTSD from this event.A friend who was burned over 30% of his body and has a 100% disability could not stand going to formation with the Warrior Transition Unit to which he was assigned. He hated the whining of the soldiers who had a bad knee and claimed PTSD. He indeed had PTSD and anyone injured by an IED and then burned would have. (I never question PTSD in a soldier truely injured in combat.) These soldiers have learned from one anouther how to tell the psychiatrist words and phrases such as Horriffic, Helpless, In fear for my life,  and so on.  Then these individuals state that they don't like crowds, they avoid potholes and trash on the road and they they tend to jump when there is a loud noise. (Don't these all sound normal to you?)       How dare you question a wounded warrier? 42% of the soldiers who go through the Disabilities system have never deployed. Anywhere, Not Iraq, Not Afghanistan, Not Germany, Not Korea. Some try claiming combat from  times in Kosovo when there was no combat. But our politicians all think that they are amputees from a war zone.

Nobody cares about us until it's to late - - Jan 22nd 2009

Nobody cares about us until it's to late.  Then they ask why, and how come we didn't ask for help?  I just got diagnosed with PTSD, but guess what, I'm a Reservist returning from a deployment, I no longer have TRICARE coverage or any medical coverage for that matter, so I can't get the medication that the doctor wants to give me.  But that's ok, I just got notified that I'm deploying again in 5 months.  I should just walk away, seeing I'm only a Reservist, but I raised my right hand and swore in.  Integrity is a Bitch sometimes.

PTSD Fraud - - Nov 3rd 2008

Someone had better do something fast.  I just returned from a one year deployment in Iraq.  I work full time as an Instructor Pilot within an Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility.  I have never been so disgusted and lost so much trust in people as I have with the crewmembers returning with me.  We have one individual that has claimed all types of disability all the way up to 70% yet he keeps working out here drawing a $90,000 paycheck while doing those things that under normal circumstances would make his fake disability worse all the time holding down a go to war slot To make matters worse he has openly and repeatedly stated that when it comes time for his next deployment he will hold up his disablity card. His plan is to milk the system as long as he can.  It's not fair to the tax payers and its not fair to those of us who will have to pick up his slack when he walks away right before the deployment.  To make matters worse this same individual has been coaching other veterans how to scam the system.  It is down right WRONG.  I am hoping that eventually the leadership will stand up and say enough is enough and hopefully charge him and the others with fraud. 

War and PTSD - Allan N Schwartz - Sep 19th 2008

I believe you have mis-read this article. In the article I am making the point that PTSD is very real and that we need to care for our veterans. You do not seem to realize it but you and I completely agree with one another.

Dr. Schwartz

PTSD - A no body - Sep 19th 2008

I read what you said about the veterans of today and there so called PTSD. I do agree that many are living off the tax payers of this country. Some may be veterans of war, some maybe wannabee combat veterans. However I do feel you or no one else has the right to judge these men and women that fought for us. This country was mad as Hell after 9-11 and wanted someone to pay. Remember that day?? Well we called on our troops and they winning a war for us. Some bring that war home with them. They will never be the same. They have lost their jobs, family and friends. They hurt, they can't sleep and they medicate themselves. For they have seen death and faced death. PTSD = People -That -Should of- Died. They are dieing, on the inside and unless we help them more will die. Hey if they all die we want have pay tax to support them. So what the Hell !! Let them Die!! that's what you and few more want. Isn't it??  I am a no body and will alway be a no body. But no Bodies fight Wars.

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