Veterans Affairs to Relax PTSD Evidence Requirements

By Gregory

Jul 10, 2010 6:01am

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports:

Calling post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries the “signature injuries of today’s wars,” President Obama announced in his weekly address that on Monday the Department of Veterans Affairs will make it easier for veterans to get the benefits they need.

“For years, many veterans with PTSD who have tried to seek benefits – veterans of today’s wars and earlier wars – have often found themselves stymied,” the president said.

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs will announce new regulations that will liberalize and relax PTSD evidence requirements in order to make it easier for veterans to receive benefits.

Noting that the PTSD benefits process has been “long and tenuous” in the past, senior administration officials said the new regulations will help those claiming PTSD immediately.

“It’s really making it a lot easier, because the threshold has been liberalized to the point where it’s much easier to verify,” a senior administration official said in a conference call in advance of next week’s formal announcement.

The new regulations will eliminate the need for veterans to document specific events that caused their PTSD. Veterans now will just be required to show a diagnosis of PTSD and that it was related to service overall, not a specific event.

“We’d look to see that PTSD was the actual diagnosis, then we would also look for the claim in terms of how this diagnosis is related to the service,” the official said. “That nexus is extremely important. And under this new procedure, once the veteran makes that claim of how those two things are related all we’re really looking at is to see … if that claim stressor is consistent with the places types and circumstances of his service.”

They will just need to see that based on the “overall experience” they had in service “that they were in a place where that type of situation would have come up.”

“They’ve been required to produce evidence proving that a specific event caused their PTSD,” President Obama said in his weekly address. “That practice has kept the vast majority of those with PTSD who served in non-combat roles, but who still waged war, from getting the care they need. Well, I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application.  And I’ve met enough veterans to know that you don’t have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war.”

The new process will be streamlined and will result in veterans receiving mare timely decisions on their claims, the administration said.

Under the current regulations governing PTSD claims, unless the veteran is a combat veteran the VA decision makers are required to conduct extensive research to find out whether the veteran actually experience the claimed “in-service stressor.”

The VA no longer will require corroboration of the stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, eliminating the requirement for the VA to search for records to verify stressor accounts – which they say was “often a very involved and protracted process.“

“As a result, we will be able to more quickly reward veterans suffering with PTSD,” the administration official said. “So what we’re doing here is creating a new process that will be much easier for veterans that will enable us to expedite the processing of their claim. … The purpose of the regulation is to simplify the process and make it easier for veterans to be able to pursue their claims with us.”

The new regulation will potentially benefit all veterans, regardless of their period of their service, and it is not limited to veterans with direct combat experience — such as truck drivers in current combat who “legitimately could have a fear every time they go out on the road that bad things could happen.”

The new regulation acknowledges the nature of military conflicts today and in the past to include: “guerrilla warfare, insurgent activities where stressors may include constant vigilance against unexpected attack, the absence of a defined frontline, the difficulty of distinguishing enemy combatants from civilians, and the ubiquity of improvised explosive devices.”

In his weekly address, President Obama noted that in the past PTSD wasn’t something that was talked about.

“And as a result, our troops and their families often felt stigmatized or embarrassed when it came to seeking help,” he said.

The regulations still require that the diagnosis of PTSD to be verified by a VA psychiatrist or a contracted VA clinician.

“This is a long-overdue step that will help veterans not just of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but generations of their brave predecessors who proudly served and sacrificed in all our wars,” Obama said. “It’s a step that proves America will always be here for our veterans just as they’ve been there for us.  We won’t let them down.  We take care of our own.”

– Sunlen Miller

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