Under a new process for claiming post-traumatic stress disorder, veterans will no longer have to engage in actual combat to make the case they suffered psychologically in war. Instead, the new policy recognizes that living with the fear of death and injury may be enough for troops to develop mental health issues.
"With this new PTSD regulation we are acknowledging the inherently stressful nature of the places and circumstances military services, in which the reality and fear of hostile or terrorist activities is always present," Michael Walcoff, acting undersecretary for benefits for the VA, said during a press conference this morning at the VA headquarters in Washington DC.
Veterans will not have to cite specific incidents of stress -- a firefight or rocket attack, for instance -- and then back up the claim with documentation. Instead, veterans will now have only to show that he or she served in a combat zone and had a job consistent with conditions related to their PTSD symptom. Walcoff said many more veterans will now be able to file claims for PTSD, including troops who did not have direct contact with the enemy.As a group, he said, women will be among the major beneficiaries because their military records often did not reflect combat experience, he said. Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said doctors, nurses and other troops in the medical care specialties often are witness to trauma even if they do not see the combat themselves. Other support troops also find themselves in particularly stressful roles, he said, specifically citing convoy drivers who routinely make their way along roads where roadside bombs have likely been placed.
"Knowing you're a truck driver going up and down the airport road every day, you're gripping that steering wheel intensely," he said.
Joseph Violante, legislative director for the Disabled American Veterans, told the press conference that the changes were welcome and that DAV had been pushing for the more relaxed rules for decades.
Many veterans were never able to successfully file a claim, he said, because they could not prove the stresses to the satisfaction of VA doctors in the past.
The new rules are retroactive, Walcoff said, so that any veteran from any past war may file a claim. This includes vets who previously were denied a claim, he said.
While there has been some concern that the new rules might create fraud -- primarily vets claiming PTSD for incidents that did not occur -- Walcott said the VA's overriding concern is getting care to those who do need and deserve it.
The VFW's Joe Davis said there will always be some who try to cheat, but that shouldn't obscure the fact the new rules will help a great many people.
"The overwhelming good this decision will produce outweighs the impact of a few cheaters who may attempt to game the system," he said. "We fully expect the VA to catch and prosecute them."