In a letter sent yesterday to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary, General Erik Shinseki, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree welcomes a proposed rule change that would make it easier for veterans to establish the service connection needed to receive treatment and benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Congresswoman also urged that the rule apply to all veterans, no matter when they served.
"I commend the Secretary for his proposal, which is a dramatic shift in current policy. For years, veterans have carried the burden of proof to show that their PTSD is service-related," said Pingree. "This proposal is a step in the right direction to guarantee that veterans who suffer from PTSD get the care and benefits they need. Veterans have already sacrificed enough and we don't need to put unnecessary barriers between them and the benefits they deserve."
Currently, in order to get benefits from the VA, veterans with PTSD must have an established medical link between a traumatic combat event and their diagnosis. They also need military documentation to verify the traumatic incident.
Many veterans who suffer from PTSD cannot provide this documentation for various reasons, such as lost or inaccurate records and ever-changing battlefields where a "front line" no longer exists.
The VA's proposal would require only a veteran's testimony of the incident along with a diagnosis from a VA psychologist or psychiatrist, removing the requirement for military documentation.
"It is extremely important to me that all veterans who suffer from PTSD benefit from this new rule, regardless of when they served," Pingree said. "Some veterans have been suffering from this condition for decades and it's time we give them the support they deserve."
This proposal was published in the Federal Register, with public comment period ending today, Friday, October 23, 2009. The VA will review all comments received and establish the final rule in the coming months.
Full text of the letter (pdf also attached):
October 22, 2009
Dear General Shinseki,
I write to extend my deepest appreciation for your recent decision to seek changes in the requirements for veterans who seek to establish service-connection for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As you know, PTSD is an invisible wound of war that has taken its toll on thousands of our veterans, regardless of the combat theater where they served. Under the current system, veterans who suffer from PTSD carry the burden of proof to establish a connection between their military service and their psychological disorder. In order to establish this connection, a veteran must have a diagnosis and a medical link to a claimed stressor, which must be verified by either written documentation or "buddy statements." All too often, however, veterans are unable to provide the required information because the documentation has been lost, the stressing events have been poorly recorded, or, in some cases, the events have not been recorded at all. Additionally, symptoms of PTSD can surface years after a stressors takes place, making it prohibitively difficult for veterans to locate former comrades and obtain a "buddy statement." This is an unacceptable situation.
I strongly believe that your recent decision to change the requirements for establishing a service-connection to PTSD is in keeping with recent medical research and embodies a common sense approach to ensure that our veterans receive the care and compensation they deserve. As such, I respectfully request that the final rule to be established by the Department of Veterans Affairs applies to all veterans of any conflict, past or present.
I have been contacted by Maine veterans from almost every era who are seeking assistance with their VA claims. While their stories of valor and service are common, these veterans also shared a common obstacle in documenting a service-connection to symptoms of PTSD. All of these veterans deserve to benefit from this rule change and I implore you to ensure that this happens.
I am sure we both agree that it is the responsibility of the Federal government to ensure that every veteran who suffers from PTSD has the proper access to care. As such, I urge the VA to do everything in its power to spread the word about this dramatic shift in policy and work with the Veterans Service Organizations to inform the nation's veterans of these changes.
I look forward to working with you in these endeavors. Thank you for your service to our nation, and for your steadfast dedication to our nation's veterans.
Member of Congress