If you are a veteran seeking disability benefits, you may initially think to yourself: I know I’m telling the truth, so this doesn’t apply to me. Or, you may be thinking: There is no way that the VA could possibly deny my claim, everything I have said is 100% truthful.
Unfortunately, the topic of malingering is one of the most common issues veterans’ advocates have to deal with when assisting veterans with obtaining disability benefits. My hope is that by the end of your reading, you will have a new sensitivity for why this issue is always beneath the surface, if not blatantly present, in all VA disability claims.
First, it is important to know what malingering is. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines malingering as follows: “The intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated physical or psychological symptoms, motivated by external incentives.”
In the VA world, this translates to the VA claiming that a veteran is exaggerating or even outright lying about his or her symptoms in order to obtain disability benefits or increased disability compensation. This is particularly the case when a veteran is attempting to obtain service-connected compensation for mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or when a veteran is seeking higher benefits due to individual unemployability.
Unfortunately, it is all too common for the VA’s own Compensation and Pension (C&P) examiners and sometimes the treating VAMC providers, to attack the veteran’s credibility. The usual M.O. (modus operandi) for PTSD cases is for the C&P examiner to administer psychological testing to the veteran. The psychological tests purport to detect if the veteran is malingering or lying. After the tests are administered, the C&P examiner will then use the test results in the C&P exam report to attempt to destroy the veteran’s credibility. Normally, this “credibility bashing” entails the examiner stating that because the veteran scored above a certain “cutoff” on the tests, he or she is likely to be exaggerating symptoms and/or motivated by secondary gain.
However, what the C&P examiners usually don’t state in their reports, is that it is well known in the medical literature that what may appear to be malingering, can also be a cry out for help and an expression of the severity of very real psychiatric symptomatology. This has been found to be especially true for combat veterans.
I will end by saying that I admit that not all allegations of malingering are false. But, I also know that far too many veterans are incorrectly given this label, and that is the real injustice. If you are a veteran and you are falsely identified as a malingerer, do not stop fighting for the benefits you deserve. The truth is on your side; you just have to prove it.
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