by Shad Meshad, National Veterans Foundation Founder & President
As someone who has been diagnosing and treating Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) for more than 30 years, I applaud VA for their recent decision to make it easier for veterans to receive PTSD disability benefits.
For years, Vets have been in the difficult position of having to prove the traumatic incident that was the genesis of their PTSD. You’d think this would be easy, but it was a rule that discouraged and prevented many Veterans from seeking or receiving the benefits that they needed and deserved.
One of the issues was record keeping. Many battlefield incidents are not properly documented, especially when they involve troops whose military jobs are not technically combat related. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, a road-side bomb, a sniper or an RPG can come at any time, from almost anywhere and there are service members who aren’t infantry who are finding them themselves in combat. This includes troops who witness the horrors of war in military hospitals, at checkpoints, and those that go in and clean up the bodies after a bomb blast or firefight.
Compounding this problem has been the antiquated record keeping systems at Department of Defense and VA. Most records are still not computerized, and those that are stored electronically are not shared between the two agencies. So veterans, already suffering from debilitating PTSD, were forced to chase down their military documents, often one a time, to submit to VA. And too often those paper documents were lost in the system.
This new guideline, which makes a PTSD disability rating available to a veteran who served in a combat zone, without making him or her document the incident that caused their PTSD, is a great step forward by VA in getting men and women who have served the benefits and the treatment they have earned. The National Veterans Foundation has received hundreds of calls from veterans who were declined for PTSD disability benefits or gave up in frustration, and we are now calling these men and women with the good news, encouraging them to reapply for their benefits.
There is still more progress to be made. VA continues to require that PTSD diagnoses be made by a VA mental health professional, which can be one more obstacle to a veteran receiving the proper diagnosis. Many veteran advocates argue that VA doctors are pressured to limit the number of PTSD diagnoses. Some veterans are also more hesitant to see a government doctor, especially former soldiers who have had negative experiences with the military system, and don’t trust these institutions. There are many qualified civilian physicians who specialize in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who are perfectly capable of diagnosing the condition, and those diagnoses should be honored by VA.
For information veterans can call the National Veterans Foundation Lifeline for Vets™ at 888-777-4443 or visit our website at www.nvf.org.
Floyd G. “Shad” Meshad is the Founder and President of the National Veterans Foundation and an Army veteran. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Meshad and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.