Friday, July 09, 2010

Some Good News

The Washington Post has published some good news for our veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: the VA is loosening the rules for disability benefits for this class of injury.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is to announce Monday that veterans will no longer need to provide detailed documentation proving they experienced a traumatic event during combat in order to file PTSD disability claims, congressional aides and veterans advocates said.

Eligible veterans instead will be screened by VA medical staff to confirm that claims are consistent with the location and circumstances of military service and PTSD symptoms, which often include nightmares, flashbacks, irritability and deep depression.

The changes follow more than a year of work by Obama administration officials, lawmakers and veterans advocates. VA officials declined to comment ahead of Monday's anticipated announcement.

While the details of the changes are absent from the article (they will be unveiled on Monday), the overall tone of the responses from those who have viewed the changes is positive. The military and the federal government are finally confronting the fact that mental injuries are every bit as debilitating as physical injuries.

This is especially good news for one particular class of veterans: women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who have had a harder time than their male counterparts in getting the treatment and the benefits they deserve.

And female veterans should have an easier time earning benefits, because Pentagon rules prohibiting front-line action make it difficult to prove stressful combat events, advocates said.

Women often face more skepticism about PTSD claims during visits to male-dominated VA medical centers, said retired Army Sgt. Carolyn Schapper.

"If you happen to go once and the first person you speak to questions the authenticity of your story, you're less likely to go back," she said. "That's true for men and women, but women are more likely to be questioned than men."

She had an easier time filing disability claims because of her rank, she said.

But "if you think you have PTSD because a mortar was hitting your forward operating base, you more than likely don't have paperwork," Schapper added.

Apparently VA officials hadn't yet heard that wars are no longer being waged in the classical mode. There are no trenches and few pitched battles. Many of our veterans have been injured by more insidious forms of warfare, suicide bombers and IEDs, as well as mortar shelling of bases often designated as "safe." Women have been exposed just as much as men to the horrors of this new form of combat. They too have seen their comrades blown to bits, have had to drive supply trucks down a road potentially lined with explosive devices in trucks that have not been up-armored.

It's way past time for these changes to be made. Yes, it will be expensive, but it is all part of the true cost of war, something our government needs to understand.

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