This post comes on the heels of my recent post Spitting out the Truth prompted by a comment made to that article by fellow blogger, Secret Agent Woman who remarked regarding a veteran she knew who had lied about his war experience - her comment suggested this entry. Thanks, Secret Agent Woman.Eighty year old Portland resident Lafayette Keaton was a local hero. A veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, Keaton was honored by local veterans groups and often invited to speak of his experiences to civic organizations and local schools. Friendly and unassuming, this quiet man would show up in his dress uniform sporting the Silver Star he had earned for his acts of heroism during the Korean War.
But Keaton spoke mostly of his harrowing and vivid accounts of his three deployments to Vietnam. Recalling his experiences in the Army Rangers he admitted that he still awakens with nightmares. But his proudest accomplishment, as he tells it, was of his participation of the liberation of the Japanese prison camp in Los Banos, The Philippines, during WWII.
However it turns out that the only real war Keaton has been fighting all these years has been with the truth – Keaton joined the military 1952, too late for WWII. He served only two months in Korea in an administrative position and well after the cession of combat. He has never set foot in Vietnam. Keaton is a fraud. 
One evening my wife Nancy and I had the pleasure of dining with an acquaintance, Dr. Loren Pankratz. Loren is Consultation Psychologist and Clinical Professor at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Previously he has worked at the Portland Veterans Administration Medical Center; he has a special interest in deception in medical patients.
Loren has been hired as a consultant, as an expert witness by attorneys in cases where patients were suing their psychologists or psychiatrists for malpractice in “repressed memory” cases. These are incidents of people who have falsely been led into believing they were suffering repressed and blocked memories of horrific, sometimes even ritual, abuse. In the vast majority of these cases, the repressed memories have turned out to be false; the results instead of impressionable patients and their clinicians all too eager to encourage these fictitious beliefs.
Loren’s book, Patients Who Deceive, was drawn from his experiences treating patients who “acted out” illness.  Later, during his tenure at the Veterans Administration, floods of new patients returning from Vietnam were being assessed for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of these vets complained of night terrors, depression, drug addiction and physical ailments. When interviewed clinicians often heard patients describe horrible atrocities allegedly witnessed by these returning vets. The belief grew that these men were part of a growing epidemic of PTSD. Pankratz was particularly troubled that that treatment for PTSD was often unsuccessful for a particular segment of these patients.
Loren and others began treating PTSD vets at the VA hospital. However, unlike most of his peers, he took one additional step of requesting copies of their military service records. What he found surprised him – many of these supposed war-traumatized vets had never served in Vietnam or in any war zone. A few, it even turned out, had never been in the active military.
Our culture is rife with fiction about Vietnam vets. Movies such as Rambo, and Born on the Forth of July, for example, promote the idea that our war in Vietnam disgraced and dishonored not only our country but the men and women who served there. Almost anyone will admit seeing the supposedly “homeless vet” on the street corner holding a sign on which is scrawled “Vet will work for food”. Having myself worked in state human services, I knew for a fact that many of the homeless "vets" on my caseload had never served in the armed forces. Anyone could claim to be a vet for the simple price of a used cammo jacket from the military surplus store.
In his book, "Stolen Valor", by Dallas stockbroker and Vietnam vet B.G. Burkett, he recounts similar such stories.  Burkett was interested in raising money for a veterans memorial in Texas. But he was stymied by the negative image of Vietnam vets presented in the media; a hodgepodge of shaggy bearded and long haired misfits, whackos and losers who did not fit his memory of the elite and polished units with whom he served. Armed with the Freedom of Information Act, Burkett confirmed his suspicions; that many of these so called vets either never served or were never in a theater of combat.
What are we to make of this deception? The news media would suggest that significant numbers of our service personnel returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan with significant and permanent mental disabilities. But Loren Pankratz and some others don’t believe the problem is as wide spread as suggested. True, readjustment to civilian life can be difficult particularly in tough economic times at home. Military deployment is indeed hugely disruptive to families and finances. There is no doubt that the traumas of serving in combat can generate life altering changes.
But Pankratz reveals that most returning vets want the same things we all want; a home, loving and supporting family, meaningful work and a happy life and secure future. Most find ways to reconcile their experiences, some of them traumatic indeed, yet eventually reintegrate successfully back into civilian life. Yes, there are indeed substantiated cases of PTSD. However Loren says that the vast majority of cases, these veterans do get better over time.
Yet there will always be the patients who deceive; their symptoms belie a deeper extent of their illness, and in some, their strong need to be ill.
Pankratz: My favorite example is from the National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Study (NVVRS), research that consumed four years and $9 million (Kulka et al. 1988). Six women in the study claimed that their stress was caused by being a prisoner of war. Not one of the many researchers involved in the study apparently realized that no American military woman ever became a POW in Vietnam. 
~ ~ ~References
1. “War hero impostor falls to the facts”, KATU TV news web site, March 14, 2010
2. "Fake Heroes", Today's Officer magazine, Fall 2005
3. “Patients Who Deceive”, Loren Pankratz, 1998
4. "More Hazards: Hypnosis, Airplanes, and Strongly Held Beliefs", Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, June 2003
"Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History", B.G. Burkett, 1998