Requiring veterans to prove that a specific event led to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, was unrealistic and cruel. Thankfully, the Veterans Affairs Department, with a push from Congress, has changed its rules, making it easier for veterans to get the benefits they need.
Earlier this month, the VA ended the requirement that veterans produce records showing what event caused their symptoms. This process sometimes took months or even years. Applications were also rejected for small mistakes on the form.
Instead, a VA psychologist or psychiatrist will screen a veteran to see that they have PTSD symptoms, such as depression, flashbacks or other emotional problems. The psychologist or psychiatrist will then attest that the stress and-or fear is related to military service, which doesn’t mean just combat.
“I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address before the rule change.
Nearly 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD or major depression, according to a study by the RAND Corp.
Rep. Mike Michaud, chairman of the health subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has long been upset by the number of veterans awaiting benefits and the complex process they must go through to apply for them. He says there is a backlog of more than 800,000 disability claims awaiting processing by the VA. The majority of these are from Vietnam-era veterans seeking benefits related to PTSD. The disability compensation can be up to $2,700 a month, according to the VA.
“Not all the wounds suffered by our service members are physical,” Rep. Michaud said after the VA announced the rule change. “Veterans with PTSD should get the care they need, not regulatory burdens.”
Reps. Michaud and Chellie Pingree advocated for the rule change. The initial push came from former 1st District Rep. Tom Allen and his Full Faith in Veterans Act, which the previous administration did not adopt. His bill was one step better than the current policy because it would have allowed a diagnosis from any doctor, not just those affiliated with the VA. In rural areas, such as many part of Maine, this would make it even easier for veterans to access treatment.
Rep. Pingree worked to ensure the new rules didn’t apply only to veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The VA has not said what the cost of the simpler PTSD qualification will be. But, as Rep. Michaud points out, treating depression and other PTSD-related symptoms early saves in the long term.
Plus, it is simply the right thing to do.