VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony


Statement of  




Submitted By

 Thomas J. Berger, Ph.D, Chairman
VVA National PTSD & Substance Abuse Committee

Richard F. Weidman
Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America

Before the

Subcommittee on PTSD of the
Committee on Gulf War & Health: Physiologic, Psychologic,
And Psychosocial Effects of Deployment-Related Stress
Institute of Medicine
Of the
National Academy of Sciences


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Diagnosis, treatment, and Compensation

July 6, 2006

Distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the Committee on Gulf War and Health:  Physiologic, Psychological, and Psychosocial Effects of Deployment-Related Stress, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) thanks you for the opportunity to present our views on the current state of the clinical diagnoses and the disability compensation claims process as accorded our nation’s veterans suffering from PTSD. 

Foremost, Vietnam Veterans of America applauds this Committee for its obvious concern about the mental health care of our troops and veterans that we saw evidenced at your first public meeting.  The quality of your questions and demeanor indicated the both the sincerity and the sophistication of your concern. 

No one really knows how many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been or will be affected by their wartime experiences. Despite the early intervention by psychological personnel, no one really knows how serious their emotional and mental problems will become, nor how chronic both the neuro-psychiatric wounds (particularly PTSD) and the resulting impact that this will have on their physiological health.  However, recent reports have suggested that troops returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq are suffering mental health problems at a rate higher than the levels seen in Vietnam War veterans. Other reports indicate that the service members who served in a war zone in Iraq or elsewhere are getting sick at a higher rate than those who were not deployed. In fact, VVA has no reason to believe that the rate of veterans of this war having their lives significantly disrupted at some point in their lifetime by PTSD will be any less than those estimated for Vietnam veterans by the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study.  

Results of the NVVRS demonstrated that some 15.2 percent of all male and 8.5 percent of all female Vietnam theater veterans were current PTSD cases (i.e., at some time during six months prior to interview).  Rates for those exposed to high levels of war zone stress were dramatically higher (i.e., a four-fold difference for men and seven-fold difference for women) than rates for those with low-moderate stress exposure.  Rates of lifetime prevalence of PTSD (i.e., at any time in the past, including the previous six months) were 30.9 percent among male and 26.9 among female Vietnam theater veterans.   

Comparisons of current and lifetime prevalence rates indicate that 49.2 percent of male and 31.6 percent of female theater veterans, who ever had PTSD, still had it at the time of their interview.  Thus the NVVRS was a landmark investigation in which a national random sample of all Vietnam Theater and era veterans, who served between August 1964 and May 1975, provided definitive information about the prevalence and etiology of PTSD and other mental health readjustment problems. The study over-sampled African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, as well as women, enabling conclusions to be drawn about each subset of the veterans’ population.  

The NVVRS enabled the American public and medical community first become aware of the documented high rates of current and lifetime PTSD, and of the long-term consequences of high stress war zone combat exposure.  Because of its unique scope, the NVVRS has had a large effect on VA policies, health care delivery and service planning.  In addition, because the study clearly demonstrated high rates of PTSD and strong evidence for the persistence of this disease, it was generally accepted that the VA would pursue a follow-up or longitudinal study of the original participants in this seminal research project. 

In 2000 Congress, by means of Public Law 106-419, mandated the VA to contract for a subsequent report, using the exact same participants, to assess their psychosocial, psychiatric, physical, and general well being of these individuals. It would enable it to become a longitudinal study of the mortality and morbidity of the participants, and draw conclusions as to the long-term effects of service in the military period, as well as about service in the Vietnam combat zone in particular. The law requires that VA use the previous report as the basis for a longitudinal study.  

In 2000 the VA solicited proposals for non-VA contractual assistance to conduct a longitudinal study of the physical and mental health status of a population of Vietnam era veterans originally assessed in the NVVRS.  

It is apparent that a longitudinal follow-up to the NVVRS is necessary in order to meet the requirements of the law, and to do what just makes sense in both policy and scientific terms.  However, not only has the VA failed to meet the letter of the law, there has been no effort to build upon the resources accumulated from this unique and comprehensive study of Vietnam veterans in a highly cost-efficient and scientifically compelling manner. More important, however, is that such a longitudinal study could provide clues about which VA health care services are effective and about ways to reach the veterans who receive inadequate services or do not seek them at all.  And this has important consequences for America’s current and future veterans. 

It is now clear that the VA is ignoring the law and the Congress, and plain refusing to do the study. The VA now has said in Congressional testimony says, “the Inspector General stopped the study” when in fact the IG has no line authority at all to do any such thing. The Undersecretary and the Secretary stopped the study. 

At that same hearing on Research & Development on June 7, 2006, the VA also said that they could not do the study because they could only find 300 of the original more than 2,500 persons in the statistically valid random sample chosen by the Gallup Organization at a public cost of more than $1 million in 1984 dollars. If that were true (which strains credibility at best) then that would mean that 85% of that valid national sample has died in the past 25 years.  VVA would suggest that this would be front-page news, if true. 

Further, the VA has tried to claim they would be better off using the failed “Twins” study data base from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because they do not want a longitudinal study, nor do they want to have validated the results of what the NVVLS may demonstrate in regard to very high mortality and morbidity of Vietnam veterans, especially those most exposed to combat.

As even while the military’s own studies clearly show that one-third of the Iraq and Afghanistan troops have sought mental health services during their first year home, the legitimacy of veterans’ claims that they suffer from PTSD is under the gun by a small number of media savvy skeptics, whose views are not generally shared by mainline PTSD experts.   

For example, Dr. Sally Satel, a former assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale's School of Medicine (with a concurrent appointment as a staff psychiatrist at the West Haven VAMC) from 1985 to 1993, and now “resident scholar” at the American Enterprise Institute, has waged a campaign to discredit PTSD as a valid diagnosis.  In public statements she portrays veterans who suffer from PTSD as looking for easy disability payments that provide an incentive for staying sick rather than getting well, with the implication that sick veterans are welfare cheats.  In addition to her claims of veteran fraud, Dr. Satel has also opined that cases of delayed onset of PTSD “are rare to non-existent” and that “PTSD is an acute, not chronic, disease and only rarely should there be a need to give long-term disability”.   

Part of Satel's approach is to try to undercut, discredit, and diminish the Vietnam Veteran's Readjustment Study by questioning how 50% of the veterans could be reporting symptoms when 'only 15% were assigned to combat units'.  This question signals either appalling historical ignorance of what happened in Vietnam or slippery distortion, or both. . In 2004 Satel said, 'What is generally put forth as an established truth--that roughly one-third of returnees from Vietnam suffered psychological problems--is at best highly debatable.'  But, in 2005, when the Army surgeon general reported that 30% of soldiers who returned from Iraq had developed mental health problems, Satel did not attempt to argue differently. 

In fact, Dr. Satel has offered no data to support her opinions.  Studies done at the National Center for PTSD confirm the delayed onset of PTSD, as well as the fact that mental health utilization is actually higher for veterans granted disability claims than for those who apply and are turned down.  Furthermore, VVA doubts that the journalistic op/ed stuff Satel writes about PTSD could show up in reputable scholarly journals where a decent peer review process would shred her facile, superficial assertions.  By now it should be clear that her intended audience is politicians and policy-makers, not academics who have standards for what constitutes credible research and scholarship.  VVA would also argue that use of the standardized and validated PTSD diagnostic assessment tools in the “Best Practices Manual for PTSD…” would pick up any fractious PTSD disability claims and provide for better guidance in developing individualized treatment plans. 

VVA notes the absence of VA research outside of that conducted at the National Center for PTSD on the physiological manifestations of PTSD and co-morbid medical/health conditions such as that conducted by Dr. Joseph Boscarino (1). For the veteran suffering from acute, long-term PTSD, can one reverse the endocrine changes that occur?  Or reverse physical changes in the brain?  Of course not…   But without such research efforts, the VA will continue to labor under the fallacy that “PTSD is all in your head…”

VVA acknowledges that the culture of the VA mental health system itself may play a yet undefined role in this current debate over PTSD and VA compensation.  For example, the studies of Sayer and Thuras (1), as well as Kimbrell and Freeman (2) suggest that VA clinicians had a more negative view of the treatment engagement of veterans who were seeking compensation and of clinical work with these patients in comparison with those veterans not seeking compensation and those certified as permanently disabled and thus not needing to reapply for benefits.  The longer VA clinicians had been working with veterans who had PTSD, the more extreme were these negative perceptions.  

What is clear to us is that these clinical “researchers” are not even aware that their patients seek service connection so that the veteran will not have to pay for medical treatment for a condition that they believe resulted from their military service. This, and the sense of validation are often more important to the individual veteran that any compensation payment he or she may derive (and deserve!) as a result of this psychiatric wound(s) that are every bit as real as a gun shot wound, if properly diagnosed according to the VA’s own “Best Practices Manual.” 

There are numerous other points that we wish to make to you before you wrap up this project, but we will close here for now with urging that this panel strongly recommend that VA complete the National Vietnam Veteran Longitudinal Study (NVVLS) exactly as directed by Public Law 106-419. Because that sample is not limited to those who use VA, the results will validate the prevalence of PTSD in the last previous large generation of combat veterans. 

Thank you for your kind attention. I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


      1.  Boscarino, J. A. 2006. Post-traumatic stress disorder and mortality among U.S. Army veterans 30 years after military service.  Ann. Epidemiol. 16: 248-258. 

      2. Sayer, N. A. and Thuras, P. 2002. The influence of patients’ compensation-seeking status on the perception of veteran’s affairs clinicians.  Psychiatry. Serv. 53: 210-212. 

3. Kimbrell, T.A. and Freeman, T. W. 2003. Clinical care of veterans seeking compensation. 
Psychiatry. Serv
. 54:910-911.


Funding Statement
July 6, 2006

The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19) with the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.

For Further Information, Contact:
Director of Government Relations
Vietnam Veterans of America.
(301) 585-4000, extension 127

Dr. Thomas J. Berger

Dr. Tom Berger is a Life Member of Vietnam Veterans of America and currently serves as national chair of VVA’s PTSD and Substance Abuse Committee.  As such, he is a member of the Veterans’ Healthcare Administration (VHA) Consumer Liaison Council and the Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research Initiative for the Committee on Care of Veterans with Serious Mental Illness.  In addition, Dr. Berger holds the distinction of being the first representative of a national veterans’ service organization to hold membership on the Executive Committee of the Veterans’ Administration Substance Use Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative.  He is also a member of VVA’s national Health Care, Government Affairs, Women Veterans, and Project 112/SHAD committees.  At the local level he serves as Secretary of the Missouri Vietnam Veterans Foundation and as both Board President and Secretary for Welcome Home, Inc., a non-profit domiciliary for veterans suffering from PTSD and substance abuse problems.

Upon completion of his military service as a Navy corpsman with the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam and then subsequently after earning his doctoral degree, he has held faculty and administrative appointments at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the State University System of Florida in Tallahassee and the University of Missouri-Columbia, as well as program administrator positions with the Illinois Easter Seal Society and United Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Missouri.  His professional publications include books and research articles in the biological sciences, wildlife regulatory law, adolescent risk behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Berger now devotes his efforts full-time to veterans’ advocacy at the local, state and national levels on behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America.   

He presently resides in Columbia, Missouri and his hobbies are cycling, music, cooking, and reading. 


Richard F. “Rick” Weidman serves as Director of Government Relations on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of America. As such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in Washington. He served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War, including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division, located in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.

Mr. Weidman was part of the staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving variously as Membership Service Director, Agency Liaison, and Director of Government Relations. He left VVA to serve in the Administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo as statewide director of veterans’ employment & training (State Veterans Programs Administrator) for the New York State Department of Labor.

He has served as Consultant on Legislative Affairs to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and served at various times on the VA Readjustment Advisory Committee, the Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities - Subcommittee on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Entrepreneurship at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other advocacy posts. He currently serves as Chairman of the Task Force for Veterans’ Entrepreneurship, which has become the principal collective voice for veteran and disabled veteran small-business owners.

Mr. Weidman was an instructor and administrator at Johnson State College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he was also active in community and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate University (B.A., 1967), and did graduate study at the University of Vermont.

He is married and has four children.


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