Magazine | August 29, 2016, Issue


The Disability Trap

David French’s article on the VA’s overmedication of veterans (“Casualties of the VA,” July 11) was most insightful; your candor is especially noteworthy. You failed to mention what is, alas, a major motivation for recent veterans to claim an “official” PTSD diagnosis — namely, disability compensation. Comparisons with the U.K. are instructive, but so is the comparison between the VA today and before 2001. Today, perhaps with the best of intentions, the VA in conjunction with the Armed Services deliberately channels veterans into “disability ghettos,” which can indeed disrupt and delay recovery, impede reintegration into society, and of course misdirect resources. Not only are VA benefits actively pushed onto veterans, but there are negative financial consequences for recovering from mental-health conditions that are eminently treatable. The best thing we could do for veterans would be to emulate best practices in industry and even workers’ compensation, which focus on recovery and improved health, not on labeling someone as permanently disabled. This labeling is self-defeating and hinders recovery. Your excellent personal story is illustrative of a poorly run system for both veterans and taxpayers. Thank you kindly.

Arthur Reynolds

Lieutenant Colonel (ret.), Judge Advocate General’s Corps

United States Army

David French responds: I appreciate Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds’s letter and agree with his core point. The VA’s disability system is broken, and there are strong financial incentives for making disability claims. Moreover, these incentives actually exacerbate the drug crisis that was the focus of my article. The long-term prescription and use of addictive medications is often cited as evidence of the persistence of the underlying physical and psychological condition — yet that same use and abuse of medication creates new physical and psychological problems. The veteran is thus trapped in a cycle of drug dependency that creates its own set of perverse incentives. The thing that is destroying their life is the thing that is also partly responsible for their disability check.

Nothing I write should be construed as an argument that any given veteran should throw away their pill bottles. There are circumstances in which these prescriptions are life-saving. But each and every veteran prescribed addictive medication should seek additional medical opinions — particularly if they find that the drugs are wreaking havoc with their lives. Too many veterans have lost themselves in pill bottles. It’s past time for them to ask questions and seek alternatives.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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