Veterans returning from Afghanistan and other dangerous countries must sometimes feel like the home front isn’t all that better than the war zone.
After all, it can’t be easy adjusting from being in a state of having to watch your back every moment to knowing you can go to the store without a flak jacket. You have to pick up the pieces of the life you left behind, and for some, it must be especially difficult, when you don’t have a job to return to, or if your health is poor.
And while it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when anybody thinks of returning veterans, another obstacle to getting back into civilian life is that life insurance can sometimes be difficult to obtain.
Not for every military member, to be sure, but those who have post traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, can find it a challenge.
It was in 1980 when PTSD was first diagnosed, and so this has been a problem for awhile now, but a recent USA Today article highlighted that more soldiers than ever are likely to be found to have the condition.
“We are at the cusp of a wave of PTSD,” a physician told USA Today, which reported that in 2003, 200,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had been diagnosed with it. Last year, the number of those seeking treatment for it was higher than 650,000.
That means, aside from all the emotional and health issues that come with PTSD, there are likely to be quite a few members of the service who will find it harder to apply for life insurance.
I can’t and won’t defend insurance companies denying coverage to a military member, but it’s easy to explain and understand, even if we don’t like it. Companies offering life insurance, as I’ve noted many times in this blog, are out for a profit, like any other industry, and if the research indicates that a prospective buyer has a fair to good chance of harming themselves or being harmed, insurers tend to shy away from selling life insurance to those people. Or at the very least, the premiums are higher.
Still, while I’ve heard of a few cases of veterans being denied coverage for being diagnosed with PTSD, it isn’t an issue that appears to be a major issue — at least not yet. And the people I’ve talked to, who should be hearing about problems with life insurance, haven’t heard much chatter about the topic either.
Aaron Negherbon is the founder of a San Ramon, California-based nonprofit, TroopsDirect.org, which specializes in getting everything from toothpaste to generator parts to members of the military in faraway outposts.
(Of course, it sounds nuts that a nonprofit like this would be needed. Why doesn’t the military just send those resources to any troops in need? But as anyone who has served, or who watches M*A*S*H reruns knows, there’s a lot of red tape and bureaucracy in the military. Negherbon didn’t serve in the military, interestingly enough. He just saw a problem in the military and, as a civilian, decided to fix it.)
Anyway, Negherbon says that life insurance isn’t a topic that he hears about often, although he says he can understand why PSTD would give some insurers pause.
“When you get as much brain trauma as some of these guys, no wonder some of them have problems. I know a guy who just killed himself a week ago,” says Negherbon.
Harry A. Croft, M.D., a San Antonio, Texas-based psychiatrist who specializes in combat PTSD, and author of the book I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall, hasn’t had soldiers tell him that they’ve been denied. But the topic hasn’t exactly come up either. “Life insurance issues are not my thing,” Croft says.
But Croft, too, understands why an insurer would be reluctant to place coverage, echoing Negherbon’s thoughts: “One of the concerns is the increased likelihood of suicide with PTSD in combination with depression and/or substance abuse, or [being in the] presence of life loss.”
Dan Weedin is a Seattle-based insurance consultant who advises business executives and owners on crisis management. He is also a former insurance agent, also coaches insurance professionals.
(This is his second time appearing on this blog, so as late night talk show host Stephen Colbert always quips, Weedin is a “friend of the show.”)
Anyway, Weedin also says that the issue hasn’t been discussed in his circles either. “I haven’t heard of any issues with getting life insurance for members of the military with PTSD. However, I don’t sell insurance so I wouldn’t be coming in contact with them regularly,” he says. “I would guess that any history PTSD would raise red flags and make it difficult to procure. PTSD has certainly been linked to suicidal behavior, which is normally excluded for the first 2 years of the policy, and other risky behavior.”
None of this is to say that it hasn’t been a problem. Visit military forums, and you will sometimes find a veteran commenting how an insurer saw his or her medical records and then was denied coverage. It just isn’t being talked about a lot.
And hopefully it’s an issue that will get more attention because there are plenty of military members who have PTSD but love life and have no desire to kill themselves. Just because you’ve come back from service depressed and stressed, it doesn’t mean you have any desire to become a casualty of war yourself.
So what to do if you have PTSD and you have been denied coverage, or you’re worried about being denied, and you want life insurance for your family?
The answers are murky since there’s so little information out there on this topic, but here a few suggestions.
Get that positive information out there. If you have been treated for PTSD, getting medication and help, and especially if doctors have given you a clean bill of health, make sure your life insurance agent knows about it, Weedin recommends. “Even then, I’m certain there will be an increased rate factor,” he says.
Get as much life insurance as possible through the military. Another suggestion from Weedin. It’s probably an obvious suggestion to anyone in the armed services, but one that you may haven’t considered for awhile and should circle back to.
Keep looking. That’s my suggestion. There are various stages of PTSD, and if you’ve been diagnosed with a mild form, and you’re being treated for it, and there’s nothing in your history to suggest you’re suicidal, you’re almost certainly going to find an insurer who will offer pretty decent rates.
In fact, Negherbon, as noted, contacted an insurance underwriter with one of the big insurers whom he has worked with at TroopsDirect, and he was told that most of the applications with PTSD come back with standard rates — and some even come back with preferred.
Much of it, the underwriter told Negherbon, has to do with whether the person with PTSD has been treated, and if they have a job. If the person applying has a job, that’s a good sign that they’re living a stable, functional life. So if you have PTSD, and you’re unemployed and with no life insurance, get the job first — assuming you’re looking — and then apply.
In any case, Negherbon says, the underwriter seemed to have a lot of positive news for veterans with PTSD.
Which isn’t to say that everyone with PTSD will easily be able to get life insurance.
If you have attempted suicide numerous times and are being treated for severe PTSD, you’d be best served by focusing on your treatment and letting some time pass before shopping around. If you don’t, your current options are going to be slim.
You might be able to get an exclusion written, so that if you’re stricken with a disease like cancer, you’re covered, but if you suffer anything related to PTSD, you’re not. But PTSD is so pervasive that it’s difficult to imagine an insurer going for that.
At the very least, you can probably get a guaranteed issue life insurance policy. There isn’t a medical exam and no health questions.
But generally, the premiums are expensive, and the death benefits aren’t great.
It’s so sad, and the saying is so true. War is hell — down to even the minute details of filling out a life insurance application.
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