WASHINGTON, DC—Last month, VA eased its rules for how veterans with PTSD file for disability benefits from the department. Previously veterans were required to prove several things before receiving benefits—that they served, that they suffer from PTSD, and that they were in a specific combat situation or other high-stress environment that could cause post-traumatic stress.
With the rule change, VA has allowed veterans with PTSD to receive benefits without documenting a specific event that led to the disorder. A veteran will need only to prove that he or she served in a warzone where stressful events could be expected. The rule change is expected to expedite claims processing through the VA benefits system, which has struggled for years with a backlog. The predicted increase in eligible veterans is expected to cost approximately $5 billion over several years.
While some have raised concerns about possible malingering, most VA officials and physicians who have testified on the issue have stated that the benefits of such a rule change will greatly outweigh the potential drawbacks. Mental health experts have testified that the stress of a drawn-out claims process can only exacerbate PTSD, and that veterans seeking benefits have been forced to relive their traumatic experiences again and again in the effort to prove they happened.
Also, VA and DoD officials, as well as former and current servicemembers, have testified that, while military record-keeping has improved, a servicemember’s records are not always complete. Proving specific traumatic situations occurred—especially if they were non-combat related—and that the veteran was present during it can prove to be difficult, if not impossible.
The rule will affect all veterans, not just those from OIF/OEF. Veterans service organizations have been advocating for the rule change for some time. “This has been a major step forward,” declared Timothy Embree, advocate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America at a legislative hearing following the change. “We think a lot more servicemembers and veterans are going to be able to get the care that they need. They’re not going to have to go through that six month process where they have to say, ‘Yes, I was shot at. Yes, I was blown up. Yes, I saw my buddy die. “[You] had to relive it every time you proved your case, and that was awful. It was very unfair to the former servicemembers.”