Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-8th District) applauded today's announcement by Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki that the VA will improve its process for determining who can receive disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sec. Shinseki announced that the department will now presume a service connection for any veteran who served in a combat zone and has been diagnosed with PTSD.
"Today's announcement is a major victory for our troops who suffer from scars that can't be seen but are most certainly felt," said Murphy, an Army veteran who served as a Captain in the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad from 2003 to 2004.
Murphy has long been a leading proponent of improving the VA's process for determining eligibility for PTSD benefits. In 2009, he co-sponsored the COMBAT PTSD Act (HR 952), which specifically focused on creating the presumption of service connected disability for veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
Prior to this rule change at the VA, veterans who applied for disability benefits because of PTSD needed to provide detailed documentation to prove that their condition was service-related. The high burden of proof can be exceedingly difficult -- if not impossible -- to meet, particularly for veterans of the Vietnam era who were diagnosed years after the trauma occurred. As a result, thousands of veterans unable to document their claims have been denied healthcare and disability benefits. The announcement will ease the rules for filing PTSD claims, and many veterans who were denied benefits in the past may now be eligible.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars hailed the announcement and called the decision to ease PTSD claims requirements a sea-change in the mindset of the VA. "The VA is acknowledging that mental injuries can be just as debilitating as any physical wound, and to no longer require veterans to relive their nightmares in great detail is a very positive step forward for veterans of all generations," said Thomas Tradewell Sr., the national commander of the 2.1 million member VFW.
The full VFW release is below.
For Immediate Release, July 12, 2010
Contact, Sara Schaumburg (202) 225-4276
VFW APPLAUDS NEW PTSD CLAIMS DECISION
WASHINGTON (July 12, 2010) -- The national commander of America's largest combat veterans organization is applauding the Department of Veterans Affairs for eliminating a requirement for veterans to explicitly prove that a traumatic event directly caused their post-traumatic stress.
"From this point forward," wrote VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki in a statement released today, "VA will not require corroboration of a PTSD stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, if a VA doctor confirms a diagnosis of PTSD and the stressful experience recalled by the veteran adequately supports that diagnosis."
Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., the national commander of the 2.1 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries, called the VA secretary's decision to ease PTSD claims requirements a sea-change in the mindset of the VA. It follows numerous other decisions that increased the list of presumptions for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure; increased services and programs for women veterans, veterans who reside in rural areas as well as the homeless; and reduced the size of the claims form from 23 to 10 pages. Tradewell said even the VA's outreach to patients possibly exposed to improperly sterilized equipment at a small number of its hospitals reflects the department's proactive, veterans' first attitude.
"This new decision recognizes that wartime service is extremely stressful and dangerous, regardless of military occupational specialty, and that each person internalizes their wartime experiences differently," said Tradewell, a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis.
"The VA is acknowledging that mental injuries can be just as debilitating as any physical wound, and to no longer require veterans to relive their nightmares in great detail is a very positive step forward for veterans of all generations," he said.
"The VFW believes this decision will enable more veterans to seek the care that they deserve and have earned, and we hope the VA will also begin honoring PTSD diagnoses by civilian mental health professionals as this new regulation moves forward," said Tradewell.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is a nonprofit veterans' service organization composed of combat veterans and those who currently serve on active duty or in the Guard and Reserves. Founded in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is the nation's largest organization of war veterans and is one of its oldest veterans' organizations. With 2.1 million members located in 7,700 VFW Posts worldwide, the VFW and its Auxiliaries are dedicated to "honor the dead by helping the living" through veterans service, legislative initiatives, youth scholarships, Buddy Poppy and national military service programs. The VFW and its Auxiliaries contribute more than 13 million hours annually in community service to the nation. For more information or to join, visit the organization's Web site at www.vfw.org.