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The Experience of Disability Compensation for OEF/OIF Veterans


Recently returned Veterans experience many health and mental health problems post deployment. These Veterans, also referred to as OEF/OIF Veterans, are applying and appealing for Veterans disability compensation (VDC) at rapidly increasing rates. Despite this fact, little is known about how Veterans experience the process. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with Veterans age 35 and under who were denied disability compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This dissertation follows a three paper format which explore various components of disability compensation as experienced by OEF/OIF Veterans.

The first paper describes how Veterans learn about VDC, motivations for applying and their experience with the process of applying. Veterans typically framed the approach to seeking compensation as deciding to finally get help from the VA in a general way. Overall, many felt that something was generally wrong, and pursuing VDC was a step to help them understand their health/mental health problems, and to ultimately get better. Many also perceived they would have access to better resources through the VA (e.g. priority appointments) if they were rated for a particular illness or injury. The actual process of applying was exhausting to many veterans, and involved significant work and commitment. Decisions made about applications were perceived by Veterans as confusing and arbitrary.

The second paper considers the process of symptoms becoming diagnoses for Veterans via the VDC process. Veterans arrived to the disability application process certain of their symptoms. Veterans and other entities involved in the VDC process then played a role in affirming, molding or diminishing those symptoms. Three key aspects of the VDC process are highlighted including the process of completing the application, getting evaluated through the compensation and pension exam and receiving a decision. These aspects are explored as key arenas were symptoms were molded, affirmed or diminished. In the context of concerns about Veterans malingering to receive disability compensation, these findings suggest a more complex and nuanced experience.

The third paper depicts the way that recent Veterans perceive themselves and other Veterans as deserving and undeserving of VDC. Their rationales considered three primary areas: (1) military and combat experiences, (2) specific conditions and (3) the motivation toward self-improvement and work. Veterans also grappled with their own sense of deservingness as applicants and recipients of VDC. Veterans applied these three rationales to themselves, and also described the powerful role of military culture as a fourth factor that influenced their perceptions around deservingness.

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