From left, Michael Walcoff, VA Acting Under Secretary for Benefits; Bradley Mayes, Director of VA’s Compensation & Pension Service; Joseph Violante of the DAV; and Dr. Robert Petzel, VA Under Secretary for Health, attend a press conference on Monday announcing new PTSD benefits claims rules. Photo by Craig Roberts

Legion pleased with new PTSD regulations

Leaders of The American Legion are today celebrating a victory in the government-mandated streamlining of post-traumatic stress disorder benefits claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Announcements by both President Barack Obama during a weekend radio address and by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki signal a new and, in the Legion's opinion, more even-handed method of awarding benefits to those suffering the so-called "invisible wounds of war." The Legion played a key role in the VA's recognition and treatment of PTSD two decades ago.

Under new regulations, in effect as of Tuesday, July 13, veterans applying for PTSD-related benefits no longer need to produce official documentation and eyewitness reports corroborating their claims of traumatic stress injury, nor do they need to have suffered the traumatic stress in a direct combat situation. Under the new regulations, the intense fears of injury or death at the hands of not-easily-identified enemy combatants and terrorists, and in implied combat zones not delineated by formal battle lines, are now considered sufficient "stressors" to support PTSD claims. This opens the PTSD claims process to those former military personnel who were stationed in "behind the lines but still in grave danger," and to women veterans who are technically barred from assigned combat duty.

In a statement released Monday, Shinseki said, in part, "We're now moving to treat all veterans equally. Today, VA begins simplifying the process by which veterans with PTSD are able to access health care and receive benefits Streamlining this process will help not just the veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, but generations of veterans who have previously ‘borne the battle' for our nation," the statement read. "We're publishing a regulation today in the Federal Register that simplifies the process for claiming service connection for PTSD by reducing the documentation needed for veterans to validate the specifics of place, type and circumstance of incident. From this point forward, 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.

"This decision to simplify the process has been validated by an Institute of Medicine study, which concluded that service in a war zone is inherently linked to increased risk of PTSD."

In 1980, The American Psychiatric Association began including post-traumatic stress disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This was the result of a long battle by The American Legion and other veterans' advocates in the wake of the Vietnam War. The official diagnosis applies to people who have suffered a psychologically distressing effect "outside the range of usual human experience." The DSM lists military combat as one potential source of trauma, along with rape, severe physical assault and other types of trauma.