One hopes there’s a good explanation for this somewhere: According to this AP story, the number of people collecting VA benefits for being POWs exceeds — by hundreds — the number of actual POWs ever held (much less still alive). From the AP:
Prisoners of war suffer in ways most veterans don’t, enduring humiliating forced marches, torture or other trauma that may haunt them long afterward. In partial recompense, the government extends them special benefits, from free parking and tax breaks to priority in medical treatment.
Trouble is, some of the much-admired recipients of these benefits apparently don’t deserve them.
There are only 21 surviving POWs from the first Gulf War in 1991, the Department of Defense says. Yet the Department of Veterans Affairs is paying disability benefits to 286 service members it says were taken prisoner during that conflict, according to data released by VA to The Associated Press.
A similar discrepancy arises with Vietnam POWs. Only 661 officially recognized prisoners returned from that war alive %u2014 and about 100 of those have since died, according to Defense figures. But 966 purported Vietnam POWs are getting disability payments, the VA told AP.
Are these people claiming POW status just to get benefits? That’s possible. But I suspect the motive is often stranger — a weird attraction to
claiming falsifying elite and particularly trying military service. In research my story on PTSD and its diagnosis, for instance, I came across substantial literature showing that a lot of people — including many who were never in military service — make up and take pains to document military service that included secret behind-the-lines missions, being captured and tortured, and/or performing acts of extreme valor. The book Stolen Valor documents a stunning number of such cases in which the people collected important military medals and recognition. Others claim to have gotten them, and even procured fake medals on the black market, so as to hang the on their walls and make the medals part of their identity.
I’d hate to speculate on what motivates such claims, but it seems to me to go well beyond the desire to claim some monetary benefits. This is an elaborate fabrication of a sort of alter-ego, and alternate identity. Why — from a psych view — people indulge in such fabrication is a story I’ve been meaning to get to for a while now. But this fake-POW story, I’ve little doubt, has more to do with those complex psych motives than it does dollar benefits.