USAVA Eases Claims Process for Veterans with PTSD

WASHINGTON — The Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment will pub­lish a final reg­u­la­tion tomor­row intend­ed to ease the claims process and improve access to health care for vet­er­ans with post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, VA offi­cials announced today.

“This nation has a solemn oblig­a­tion to the men and women who have hon­or­ably served this coun­try and suf­fer from the often-dev­as­tat­ing emo­tion­al wounds of war,” Vet­er­ans Affairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki said in a state­ment issued today. “This final reg­u­la­tion goes a long way to ensure that vet­er­ans receive the ben­e­fits and ser­vices they need.”

The new rule, to be pub­lished in the Fed­er­al Reg­is­ter, will relax the evi­dence require­ment if the PTSD stres­sor claimed by a vet­er­an is linked to “fear of hos­tile mil­i­tary or ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty and is con­sis­tent with the places, types and cir­cum­stances of the veteran’s ser­vice,” a VA news release said.

Cur­rent­ly, VA deci­sion mak­ers are required to con­firm that a non­com­bat vet­er­an actu­al­ly expe­ri­enced a stres­sor relat­ed to hos­tile mil­i­tary activ­i­ty, the release said.

Under the new rule, VA no longer will require sub­stan­ti­a­tion of a stres­sor tied to fear of hos­tile mil­i­tary or ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty if a VA psy­chi­a­trist or psy­chol­o­gist can con­firm that the expe­ri­ence recalled by a vet­er­an sup­ports a PTSD diag­no­sis and the veteran’s symp­toms are relat­ed to the stres­sor, a VA release said.

“With this new PTSD reg­u­la­tion, we are acknowl­edg­ing the inher­ent­ly stress­ful nature … of mil­i­tary ser­vice in which the real­i­ty and fear of hos­tile or ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty is always present,” Michael Wal­coff, VA’s act­ing under­sec­re­tary for ben­e­fits, said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence today.

The reg­u­la­tion will elim­i­nate the need to search for records to ver­i­fy vet­er­ans’ accounts, “often a very involved and pro­tract­ed process,” Wal­coff said, and enable VA offi­cials “to move more quick­ly to award more ben­e­fits to vet­er­ans suf­fer­ing from PTSD.”

Wal­coff said he hopes the new reg­u­la­tion will encour­age more vet­er­ans with PTSD to come for­ward, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who have been deterred by a seem­ing­ly time-con­sum­ing and some­times frus­trat­ing process.

More than 400,000 vet­er­ans cur­rent­ly are receiv­ing com­pen­sa­tion ben­e­fits for PTSD, VA offi­cials said. And of the near­ly 400,000 vet­er­ans treat­ed at VA facil­i­ties for PTSD in fis­cal 2009, near­ly 70,000, or 19 per­cent, were vet­er­ans of oper­a­tions Iraqi Free­dom and Endur­ing Free­dom.

How­ev­er, the new reg­u­la­tion has the poten­tial to ben­e­fit all vet­er­ans regard­less of their peri­od of ser­vice, Wal­coff not­ed.

Dr. Robert A. Pet­zel, VA’s under­sec­re­tary for health, said the reg­u­la­tion will be par­tic­u­lar­ly ben­e­fi­cial for vet­er­ans who have had their mil­i­tary records dam­aged or destroyed, female vet­er­ans whose records don’t spec­i­fy they have com­bat expe­ri­ence, and vet­er­ans who have expe­ri­enced com­bat but have no record of it.

“This is good news for America’s vet­er­ans; in fact, it’s a his­toric day,” Pet­zel said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma called the changes a “long-over­due step” in his week­ly address.

“I don’t think our troops on the bat­tle­field should have to take notes to keep for a claims appli­ca­tion,” Oba­ma said. “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 reg­u­la­tion not only will help vet­er­ans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but “gen­er­a­tions of their brave pre­de­ces­sors who proud­ly served and sac­ri­ficed in all our wars,” the pres­i­dent said.

“It’s a step that proves Amer­i­ca will always be here for our vet­er­ans, just as they’ve been there for us,” he said. “We won’t let them down. We take care of our own. And as long as I’m com­man­der in chief, that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)