Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rep. Hall D-NY Leads Discussion on Proposed Regulation Change Regarding PTSD Determinations for Veterans


Hall Leads Discussion on Proposed Regulation Change Regarding PTSD Determinations for Veterans

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, October 7, 2009, Representative John Hall (D-NY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, led a roundtable discussion regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) proposed rule change for stressor determinations for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The revision would liberalize the evidentiary standard regarding stressor determinations for PTSD. Veteran service organizations assert that many veterans with war zone service are being denied service connection for PTSD because they cannot first prove that they were combat veterans before they can benefit from the provision outlined in the statute.

“Today’s roundtable is intended to open up the broader thought process of the implications of VA’s proposed regulation change regarding PTSD,” said Chairman Hall. “It is my goal to address the concerns and questions that many stakeholders may have regarding the proposed rule change, so that by the time the regulation is final, it is something that we can all be proud of and that will serve the best interest of those who have not as of yet found the justice and peace of mind that they so deserve.”

The current statute concerning combat presumption was enacted in 1941 and states that evidence of combat requires “consideration to be accorded time, place and circumstance.” Along with the criteria for medical evidence, the regulation states that, “if the evidence establishes that the veteran engaged in combat with the enemy and the claimed stressor is related to that combat, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, and provided that the stressor is consistent with the circumstances, conditions or hardships of the veteran’s service, the veteran’s lay testimony alone may establish the occurrence of the claimed in-service stressor.” Congress intended to allow veterans who have “engaged in combat” to have their claims adjudicated by VA with minimal evidence of combat activities.

Hall commented, “Since coming to Congress, I have heard too many accounts of denials from combat zone veterans. When we send troops into combat zones, every moment of every day is not documented. So when the veteran files a claim for PTSD, the stressors are not always easy to verify, which has resulted in too many of our combat veterans being denied an earned benefit. I want to ensure that all deserving service members are properly compensated for their PTSD and promptly treated.”

The new recently published proposed rule would reduce the need for the veteran to meet this stringent level of evidence for PTSD claims. The proposed amendment to adjudicate service connection for PTSD states: “If a stressor is related to the veteran’s fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the claimed stressor is adequate to support a diagnosis of PTSD, provided that the stressor is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the veteran’s service and that the veteran’s symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.”

Participants discussed potential limitations of the proposed rule, including a requirement that only a diagnosis from a VA practitioner would be accepted. Currently, military and private sector providers are certified and credentialed, and roundtable participants urged VA to include both in the criteria. Also, concerns were raised that the stressor must be related to the veteran’s fear, while many veterans suffer from PTSD as a result of a sense of helplessness or horror as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Chairman Hall referred to legislation that he sponsored and which passed the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that would clarify the term ‘combat with the enemy’ to include service in a theater of combat operations during a period of war of in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities. Hall introduced the COMBAT Act, H.R. 952, in response to the difficulties veterans currently encounter when required to prove stressor exposure in order to receive service-connected compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“America owes its combat veterans a debt of gratitude, not loopholes and hurdles” said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “The proposed PTSD rule recognizes this fact, and while there is still room for improvement, I applaud VA for following the Committee’s lead on this issue and taking this important step to ensure that veterans get the support they need as they transition from combat to the civilian world, and the benefits they have so bravely earned.”


· Joseph Violante, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans

· Paul Sullivan, Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense

· Steve Smithson, Deputy Director Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, The American Legion

· Christina M. Roof, National Deputy Legislative Director, AMVETS

· 1SG Delilah Washburn, USAF (Ret.), President, National Association of State Women Veterans Coordinators, Inc., and Regional Director, Texas Veterans Commission

· Tom Taratino, Director of Government Affairs, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

· Ralph Ibson, Senior Fellow for Policy, Wounded Warrior Project

· James Wear, Appeals Section Supervisor for National Veterans Services, Veterans of Foreign Wars

· John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America

Accompanied by:

o David Houppert, Esq., Director of Benefits, Vietnam Veterans of America

· Richard Cohen, Executive Director, National Organization of Veterans Advocates

· Ronald Abrams, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans Legal Service Program

· Bradley G. Mayes, Director Compensation and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Accompanied by:

o Richard Hipolit, Assistant General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs

A link an audio recording of the roundtable is available on the internet at this link:

Sphere: Related Content