VA relaxes restrictions on PTSD claims

Helena Independent Record

by Martin J. Kidston

Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder may find it easier to file a disability claim for their condition without having to prove a direct connection to a traumatic event.

Reported Wednesday by The New York Times, the Department of Veterans Affairs will begin granting compensation to those diagnosed with PTSD if they can show they served in a war zone while performing a job consistent with the events that allegedly caused their condition.

Under the new rules, vets will no longer have to prove they came under direct fire, saw a friend killed or survived an improvised explosive device.

“The burden of proof has always been on the veteran,” said Carroll Jenkins, a Helena-based psychotherapist who praised the rule change. “To shift that to the VA should change the entire way the system works, making it more responsive and empathetic to the patient.”

The Montana VA said Friday they were unable to comment on the new rules until they had posted to the Federal Registry.

The changes are expected to take effect as early as Monday, at which time the Montana VA said more information would become available, according to spokeswoman Teresa Bell.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., lauded the recent news. A member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Tester has introduced and helped pass several bills to improve benefits and care of veterans, particularly those living in rural America.

“Countless veterans are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan injured with PTSD,” Tester said Friday. “But too often, PTSD claims are met with bureaucratic delay and unacceptably low ratings, or even outright denial by the VA.

“I hope this decision will change that,” Tester added. “Our wounded warriors should get the care they need — not red tape.”

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki proposed the new regulations last August. His proposal, much like the new rules expected out next week, suggested that fear of hostile military action or terrorist activity was evidence enough to support a diagnosis of PTSD.

According to the VA, PTSD is a recognized anxiety disorder that can follow seeing or experiencing an event that involves actual or threatened death, or serious injury to which a person responds with intense fear or helplessness.

While such feelings aren’t uncommon in war, some experts have expressed concerns over possible fraudulent claims, while some mental health experts have warned that reducing standards could create economic dependency among younger vets who have a treatable condition.

One psychiatrist told the Times that it could be “destructive to give someone total and permanent disability when they are in fact capable of working.”

Jenkins disagreed with the statement, saying it will be up to professional health specialists to treat patients, help them recover and recognize possible fraudulent claims.

“It should be about helping folks,” Jenkins said. “We need to step up and be better able to discern those things, screen them and rule them out. That’s our job. It’s not the patient’s job.”