Vet­er­ans depart­ment to ease process to get ben­e­fits for post-trau­matic stress

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

The govern­ment is pre­par­ing to is­sue new rules that will make it sub­stan­tially eas­ier for vet­er­ans who have been found to have post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der to re­ceive dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits for the ill­ness, a change that could af­fect hun­dreds of thou­sands of vet­er­ans from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Viet­nam.

The reg­u­la­tions from the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs — which will take ef­fect as early as Mon­day and cost as much as $5 bil­lion over sev­eral years, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional an­a­lysts — will es­sen­tially elim­i­nate a re­quire­ment that vet­er­ans doc­u­ment spe­cific events such as bomb blasts, fire­fights or mor­tar attacks that might have caused PTSD, an ill­ness char­ac­ter­ized by emo­tional numb­ness, ir­ri­tabil­ity and flash­backs.

For decades, vet­er­ans have com­plained that find­ing such records was ex­tremely time­con­sum­ing and some­times im­pos­si­ble. And in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, vet­er­ans groups as­sert that the cur­rent rules dis­crim­i­nate against tens of thou­sands of ser­vice mem­bers — many of them women — who did not serve in com­bat roles but nev­er­the­less suf­fered trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences.

Un­der the new rule, which ap­plies to vet­er­ans of all wars, the depart­ment will grant com­pen­sa­tion to those with PTSD if they can show that they served in a war zone and in a job con­sis­tent with the events that they say caused their con­di­tions. They would not have to prove, for in­stance, that they came un­der fire, served in a front-line unit or saw a friend killed.

The new rule would also al­low com­pen­sa­tion for ser­vice mem­bers who had good rea­son to fear trau­matic events, even if they did not ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence them.

There are con­cerns that the change will open the door to a flood of fraud­u­lent claims. But sup­port­ers of the rule say the vet­er­ans depart­ment will still re­view all claims and thus be able to weed out the base­less ones.

Al­though ap­plauded by vet­er­ans’ groups, the new rule is gen­er­at­ing crit­i­cism be­cause of its cost. Some mental health ex­perts also think it will lead to eco­nomic depen­dency among younger vet­er­ans whose con­di­tions might be treat­able.

Dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits in­clude free phys­i­cal and mental health care and monthly checks rang­ing from a few hun­dred dol­lars to more than $2,000, depend­ing on the sever- ity of the con­di­tion.

“I can’t imag­ine any­one more wor­thy of pub­lic largesse than a vet­eran,” said Sally Sa­tel, a psy­chi­a­trist and fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, a con­ser­va­tive pol­icy group, who has writ­ten on PTSD. “But as a clin­i­cian, it is de­struc­tive to give some­one to­tal and per­ma­nent dis­abil­ity when they are in fact ca­pa­ble of work­ing, even if it is not at full ca­pac­ity. A job is the most ther­a­peu­tic thing there is.”

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