Recent Reduced Burdens of Proof for Veteran PTSD Benefits

Research continues to be published identifying the large number of Iraq and Afghanistan service-members who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A recent study published in the Military Medicine journal found that about 6% of all returning service-members have PTSD. Considering the total number of men and women serving overseas, this represents a very large raw number of veterans dealing with the often-debilitating mental health condition.

Unfortunately, the same study also found that many of those service-members showing strong signs of PTSD were not receiving the care they needed to help in their recovery. Recognizing the problem, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented some changes in current procedures, which will hopefully allow more service-members to receive the care they need in an efficient and timely manner.

In general, to receive VA disability benefits for PTSD a service-member must get a PTSD diagnosis from a qualified medical professional, show evidence of a service connected stressor, and have a doctor show a connection between that stressor and the PTSD. These requirements are not always easily met, sometimes resulting in worthy applicants being denied the services they need.

Some recent VA rule changes have been enacted to help ensure some applicants do not slip through the cracks. First, the VA no longer requires that a veteran show outside verification for the “stressor” if a doctor finds that the PTSD was related to a “general fear of military activity or terrorist activity.” This helps in some situations where the veteran does not have a single event that can be verified as the underlying cause of the mental health condition. However, to meet this requirement the determination must be made by a VA doctor.

In addition, the same easing of the burden in proving the stressor now applies to “in-service personal assaults.” This often refers to a range of sexual assaults between service-members referred to broadly as military sexual assault. The VA recently admitted that these and related attacks are underreported (often due to embarrassment or shame). These incidents may be the underlying cause of the PTSD. However, because many are not reported, those affected by PTSD as a result of these assaults may find it impossible to show the outside evidence of the stressor. The new VA rules seek to help these individuals by allowing new forms of evidence to prove the stressor. This may include law enforcement reports, pregnancy tests, crisis center records, counseling records, letters to friends and family, medical records, and other information that would substantiate the assault. On top of that, statements from those close to the veteran about their changed behavior or mood may also be sufficient to prove the stressor.

The bottom line is that the VA is making a clear effort to help more service-members receive the help they need for PTSD related to their service. For those that suffer permanent harm as a result of PTSD, the path to veteran disability benefits is somewhat easier than in the past. Often times, the Veteran will be able to obtain these benefits on his or her own or with the help of one of many qualified Veteran Benefits Representatives available to assist Veterans free of charge. In the event that this approach is unsuccessful, it might be time to get an attorney involved.

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