New Rules for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

From the desk of John Hanson:

For more than a generation, combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often found themselves arguing with the Department of Veterans Affairs about the existence of their very real disability.  It was often a case of both sides having the facts right, but arguing with an enormous bureaucracy doesn’t always go well.

The VA is mandated to rate disabilities and compensate veterans for them.  Sometimes it’s easy – a veteran shows up with a missing limb and a Purple Heart, the case is pretty easy to make.  However, some wounds are not so obvious.

For decades, veterans have had difficulty connecting the dots between exposure to a combat trauma and their disabilities.  This is not an example of a standoff between a deserving claimant and hide-bound government workers.  Sometimes VA just gets it wrong, but much of the time there’s a problem with a veterans military records.

Korean War veterans salute the American flag during a ceremony at the Pentagon marking the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, June 24, 2010. (Army photo by D. Myles Cullen)

There have been efforts in the past to make the connection easier.  For example, the receipt of a Purple Heart or a valor ribbon or a combat action badge and its equivalents help to make the case between exposure to combat and trauma.

But, the older the case, the harder it is to justify.  If a veteran’s service didn’t include direct combat, but the horror of its aftermath, proving a claim for PTSD can be a challenge.  At times, it seems that having to deal with the paperwork might drive people closer to the brink than the actual stressors they were exposed to.  That caused delays  — sometimes decades-long delays.  For PTSD and traumatic brain injury, justice delayed really can be justice denied.

It is not uncommon for these veterans to lose their jobs or their families.  They might resort to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.  Those results might well have been different if the process were easier.

The military has attempted to make it easier for these “invisible” injuries to be documented.  Interviews with troops in the field are intended to document exposure to combat, combat trauma and explosions.  Sometimes those report were matched with troops’ medical records.  Sometimes they weren’t.  To complicate things further, troops were not always candid with their interviewers, because they didn’t want to risk being separated from their comrades.

The VA’s New Approach

The government’s new rules for PTSD should make the claims process as simple and straightforward as it can be.  If your doctor verifies your symptoms and your records show you were in the war, the claim will likely be allowed.  That’s the way it should be.

I know there are critics who will say that some veterans will attempt to scam the system.  Maybe, but those cases are almost always found out.  The greater danger is that the system stays the way it is – putting an unreasonable burden on veterans to prove their case and hope for the best.

We owe troops more than their support while they’re in uniform.  We have to recognize that sometimes the things we ask them to do can harm them in ways they cannot imagine.  And we need to make sure they are able to recover and reintegrate after they leave the military.  It’s what a great nation does.

For more information, please visit www.va.gov or call the VA’s toll free benefits number at 1-800-827-1000.