Wednesday, October 14, 2009

VA to Ease Way for Vets to Get Stress Disability

VA to Ease Way for Vets to Get Stress Disability

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 7:03 AM

WASHINGTON -- Female soldiers and others in dangerous roles that once were behind front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan have long complained about how hard it is to prove their combat experience when applying for disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

That could soon change.

The Veterans Affairs Department has proposed reducing the paperwork required for veterans to show their experience caused combat-related stress. Even just the fear of hostile action would be sufficient, as long as a VA psychologist or psychiatrist agreed.

The VA says the change would streamline claims and recognize the "inherently stressful nature" of war service. The agency is accepting comment until Oct. 23.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called it a significant shift in policy.

"Before, and for a long time, I've been fighting many times over for the VA not to discourage people from saying they have PTSD," said Murray, who serves on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "We've have many cases where veterans were told it's all in your head."

Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone who is traumatized by an experience. From the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, more than 134,000 veterans have sought help at a VA facility for possible PTSD, the VA says. The symptoms include flashbacks and anxiety, and for some, it's so debilitating that it makes it difficult to work after they leave the military.

While praising the VA's effort, veterans service organizations have questioned the requirement for a VA psychologist or psychiatrist to agree the experience caused the disorder. Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who chairs a subcommittee with oversight over the disability claims system, said he's concerned that the proposed rule isn't comprehensive enough.

The debate is a reflection of the changing battlefield.

A World War II-era law established that veterans who "engaged in combat with the enemy" receive special treatment when they seek disability compensation, so it's less burdensome to prove an injury was from war service.

Troops from an infantry or special forces unit are awarded a badge that makes it easier to prove they engaged in combat.

Truck drivers, cooks and others in support roles aren't eligible for the badge but can use other types of documentation or medals, such as a Purple Heart, to prove they were in combat.

But veterans and service organizations that work with them have said doing so is often incredibly difficult, in part because of the lack of paperwork kept by many units. About half of all post-traumatic stress disability claims filed by veterans are denied - with the majority of denials coming because the veteran lacks sufficient documentation, the VA has said.

The VA said it does not have an estimate of the number of veterans who would likely fall under the policy change, nor does it have a cost estimate.

In 2008, a Congressional Budget Office estimate, on legislation that would have made a similar change, concluded it would cost billions over a nine-year period. Based on 2006 figures, it said the average payout for a PTSD claim was $543 a month.

Natalie MacLeod, 51, a mother of five from Lowell, Mass., who served in Iraq is among the veterans hopeful that the proposed rule change will help her. She said she's been denied PTSD disability benefits because of a lack of documentation, even though she's been diagnosed with PTSD.

"The VA will diagnose you with the PTSD and then the VA will turn you down, which is what I'm fighting right now," said MacLeod, who said she was a cook and did administrative work for her Army Reserves unit.

At a hearing last week on the issue, representatives from veterans service organizations testified that many veterans go to private mental health providers for treatment. They said the law requires the VA to consider private medical evidence when considering claims, and asked the VA to allow that in these types of cases.

Hall said he thinks that in addition to fear, if veterans could show feelings of helplessness or horror while at war caused their PTSD, they should also be eligible under the new rule.

Bradley G. Mayes, director of compensation and pension service at the Veterans Benefits Administration, who attended the hearing, said the VA is considering all meaningful comments.

Christina Roof, national deputy legislative director for advocacy group AMVETS, said while the rule change isn't perfect, "it's a step forward. It's not a cure-all, but we need to so something now."

Washington Post article on VA PTSD reform


The way I read the change is that only VA doctors can make the disgnosis of PTSD that would be accepted in the claims process regardless of what military doctors have in your records or what private doctors write in "Independent Medical Opinions" these will be ignored by the passage of this new rule. Instead of making it easier for veterans for have their claims approved I see it as a way for the Veterans Administration to start making it harder for veterans to actually get PTSD claims approved rather than making it easier as this is being sold as. The fine print is stiffling, and I feel it behooves veterans and the Service Organizations to make their concerns loud and clear before this becomes law, by edict as the government so often does, what is it 30 days after being published in the Federal Register the rule takes effect, and all future claims filed after that date, fall under the new rules.

I do applaud Secretary Shinseki on adding Parkinsons, Ischemic Heart disease and hairy cell luekemia to the presumptive list for Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam, many veterans have died from these medical problems (my father in law, died from Ischemic heart disease, my mother in law will be filing a DIC Claim) the Secretary of the VA has broad powers to run the VA, it is the most powerful post in the Cabinet today, it affects 26 million veterans lives and their millions of dependents and the power is basically in the Secretarys office, he answers only to the President, yes Congress has oversight, but they have been largely ignoring the real plight of veterans for decades, if not centuries, the agency that is advertised as being "non-adversarial" is actually the most adversarial agency there is, it is easier to solve problems with the IRS than it is for a veteran to get a compensation claim properly adjudicated before they die.

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