New PTSD Regulations: A Long Time Coming

PTSD & TBI, Veteran Benefits

The recent changes to PTSD claims processes have been well publicized and they are a long time coming. The VA is now simplifying the process by which veterans claim benefits by no longer requiring a veteran to associate a specific combat incidence or attack in relation to PTSD symptoms. It is also no longer limited to veterans who served in combat zones. Over all this process should help thousands of men and women who have suffered for years under the neglect of the Veterans Administration.

It has been argued that the new PTSD guidelines could lead to fraudulent claims.  However, this is unlikely due to the fact a veteran must first be diagnosed with PTSD and if that veteran shows improvement their benefits can be cut back over time to reduce costs.

The changes came after years of endless appeals processes averaging 4.4 years and after one large class action law suit filed against the VA in 2007. The law suit challenges that by taking up to 15 or more years to resolve benefit claims for veterans, the VA is in violation of the each veteran’s constitutional rights. Specifically addressed is their 5th amendment right to due process under the law and 6th amendment right, which provides each individual the right to a speedy trial. The suit is currently held up with the ninth district court of appeals. Its outcome is still uncertain but it is unique in that most federal courts do not handle cases against government institutions.

As explained in court transcripts, it was found that nearly 3,000 soldiers die a year while waiting for their appeals to the VA for mental health benefits. As of 2009 when the trial took place over 85,000 veterans were on a waiting list to claim mental health benefits. Also addressed is the manner in which claims are handled by the VA. Currently the Veterans Judicial Review Act passed in 1988, provides certain powers to the VA that are somewhat unique to government benefit institutions. For one, the VA itself accepts and denies claims with out first having individual claims run through an independent review officer, as you would with Social Security for example. Also a veteran currently does not have a right to retain counsel. Why I couldn’t tell you, yet these practices have prevailed and have contributed to a back log of claims.

After hearing about years of issues of neglect and red tape, I find myself asking, why wasn’t this done sooner? So many men and women have been affected by the poor mishandling of these cases. One man, Richard Sanchez, was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006 after serving nearly 10 years doing tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. After being diagnosed he filed for claims with the VA but was denied once it was determined he did not have proper documentation. Ten years of his life were dedicated to the service of this country and to the protection of people like you and I and we couldn’t help him in his time of need because of paper work? He, like so many others, is still waiting for his claim to be resolved.

Thankfully the VA has finally come through on this issue. The new guidelines for PTSD benefits are retro-active and therefore should help unclog the pipeline of claims streaming into the VA. The VA’s recognition of non-combat veterans as PTSD victims is a huge step forward. Even more significant perhaps is the establishment of a precedence which takes the burden of proof off the shoulders of the veterans themselves when claiming to have PTSD symptoms as a result of specific combat experiences.

For those of you reading this that may be in a similar situation as Mr. Sanchez, I hope these changes get you the help you need. I hope you know how much we all appreciate your service, regardless of how unappreciative we may seem at times.

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