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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

(Post) War Is Hell: Department Of Veterans Affairs Proposes Amendment To Make PTSD Claims By Veterans Easier To Prove

A big reason that I initially became interested in the law was the plight of my grandfather in the veterans affairs system. He came back from World War II and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Thereafter, he was engaged in another battle for years, this one involving his attempts to get the disease classified as war-induced so that his wife would be provided for and his children and grandchildren would have the educational opportunites that he was not afforded. He was ultimately successful, and I owe a great deal of where I am today to his tenacity. Therefore, I am certainly in support of measures that make it easier for veterans to receive disability benefits, which is why I applaud the effort of the Department of Veterans Affairs to amend its adjudication regulations governing service connection for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by liberalizing in some cases the evidentiary standard for establishing the required in-service stressor.

Currently, to be approved for disability benefits for PTSD, veterans must provide evidence, such as eyewitness corroboration or other documentation, to prove that they witnessed or experienced a traumatic event linked to their military service. If the amendment is adopted, however, the VA would accept a veteran’s own testimony, without the need for any corroboration (A psychiatrist or psychologist would still need to confirm that the traumatic event is adequate to support a diagnosis of PTSD and that the veteran’s symptoms are related to the traumatic event). According to Brad Flohr, the VA’s assistant director for policy for compensation and pensions, “This will allow us to pay benefits much faster."  

The proposed change is aimed in large part at the many troops in the current wars whose jobs do not involve combat with the enemy but nonetheless may experience traumatic events that lead to PTSD, such as combat support personnel and health care providers. The summary to the proposed amendment notes,

This amendment takes into consideration the current scientific research studies relating PTSD to exposure to hostile military and terrorist actions. It is intended to acknowledge the inherently stressful nature of the places, types, and circumstances of service in which fear of hostile military or terrorist activities is ongoing. With this amendment, the evidentiary standard of establishing an in-service stressor would be reduced in these cases. This amendment is additionally intended to facilitate the timely VA processing of PTSD claims by simplifying the development and research procedures that apply to these claims.

You can access the amendment at Regulations.gov, which is also where the public can comment on the proposed amendment through October 23rd. You can also comment

by mail or hand-delivery to Director, Regulations Management (02REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 273-9026. (This is not a toll free number). Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to `"RIN 2900-AN32--Stressor Determinations for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder."

-CM

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