PTSD claims process being simplified

While The American Legion welcomed new VA regulations that make it easier for veterans to claim disabilities from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it also urged the agency to allow private practitioners to diagnose and treat the condition.

The new VA regulations assume that veterans who served in combat zones may suffer from one or more traumatic events, or "stressors," that prove service-connection for PTSD disability claims. Veterans no longer need to provide documentation - sometimes difficult or impossible to obtain - that proves they experienced a specific traumatic event at a certain time and place.

"These new regulations are a great step forward for veterans of any war era," said Barry Searle, director of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division. "They've already been exposed to traumatic events or conditions. Now they don't have to fight another battle with their own government to get their PTSD disabilities recognized."

Searle disagrees with VA's continuing requirement that PTSD must be diagnosed and treated by the agency's own medical staff - not private practitioners.

"This requirement seems to be a step backward in an otherwise commendable move by the VA," Searle said. "Private health-care providers should be given the opportunity to work with veterans and diagnose those who suffer from PTSD." He said that if VA has concerns about the consistency of PTSD assessment standards, it should create a certification process for private practitioners that would satisfy its requirements.

The new regulations for proving PTSD disabilities should also have a positive impact on the VA claims backlog, according to one of Searle's deputy directors, Ian de Planque. "Research and development for stressors in this type of claim can be very time-consuming," de Planque said. "The results are often fruitless because the necessary records may not exist - record-keeping in combat zones or during military operations is sometimes inadequate."

De Planque said that much of the time VA spends on documenting PTSD cases can now be used to help reduce the agency's disability claims backlog.

Referring to VA's continued exclusion of private doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, de Planque agreed that VA needs to guarantee a certain level of expertise among doctors who deal with the traumas of warfare. "But many private practitioners are quite experienced in dealing with this sort of trauma and are fully capable of rendering authoritative medical opinions," de Planque said. "Furthermore, VA allows for private medical opinions in every other area of disability claims."