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Family Matters Blog: VA Eases Rules for Veterans With PTSD

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2010 – I wanted to share information about a new regulation by the Department of Veterans Affairs that will ease the claims process and improve access to health care for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

I hope our military families help spread the word about this regulation change that can only benefit our veterans bearing the invisible wounds of war.

President Barack Obama called the changes a "long-overdue step" in his weekly address.

"I don't think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application," Obama said. "And I've met enough veterans to know that you don't have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war."

The new rule relaxes the need for evidence if a PTSD stressor claimed by a veteran is linked to "fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and is consistent with the places, types and circumstances of the veteran’s service," a VA news release said.

Currently, VA decision makers are required to confirm that a noncombat veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile military activity, the release  said.

Under the new rule, VA no longer will require substantiation of a stressor tied to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist can confirm that the experience recalled by a veteran supports a PTSD diagnosis and the veteran's symptoms are related to the stressor.

Since VA officials won't have to search through records to verify accounts, the new regulation is expected to streamline an often lengthy and involved practice, enabling the VA to make decisions quicker and reach even more veterans with PTSD. 

More than 400,000 veterans currently are receiving compensation benefits for PTSD, VA officials said. And of the nearly 400,000 veterans treated at VA facilities for PTSD in fiscal year 2009, nearly 70,000, or 19 percent, were veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

However, the new regulation has the potential to benefit all veterans regardless of their period of service, Michael Walcoff, VA's acting undersecretary for benefits, said during a July 12 news conference.

Dr. Robert A. Petzel, VA's undersecretary for health, said the regulation will be particularly beneficial for veterans who have had their military records damaged or destroyed, female veterans whose records don't specify they have combat experience, and veterans who have experienced combat but have no record of it.

"This is good news for America's veterans; in fact, it's a historic day," Petzel said.

For more information, read the transcript of President Obama's weekly address or read my American Forces Press Service story, "VA Eases Claims Process for Veterans With PTSD."

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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