On July 13, 2010, Veterans Affairs put in a new rule regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This change to the rule could mean that you are now eligible to file a VA PTSD claim where before your claim was denied. Ben Stewart, attorney at Stewart Law P.L.L.C. explains the changes in this week’s Pleading Ignorance.
“The new rule is a relaxation of the evidentiary standard for establishing in-service stressors for claims involving PTSD,” Stewart says.
Basically, the new rules make it easier for veterans to prove they have a disability (specifically, PTSD) that was caused by stressors related to their service. So, veterans who were previously denied PTSD claims may now be eligible to file claims.
How does the new rule make the claim easier for veterans? Prior to the rule change, veterans had to prove that they experienced a stressor that was related to hostile military activity. Now, they only have to show that their PTSD is linked to a “fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and is consistent with the places, types and circumstances of the veteran’s service,” (from a VA news release; 07/12/10).
According to the American Forces Press Service, approximately 400,000 veterans currently receive compensation benefits linked to PTSD. Of those, approximately 70,000 were veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
For right now, however, the claims are not being applied retroactively. This means that you won’t receive benefits from the time your first claim was filed and denied. Rather, you have to file a second claim and the benefits will be applied from the date of the second application. That said, Stewart says he anticipates an appeal will be filed to determine whether the VA should be responsible for retroactive benefits in the case of PTSD.
Stewart also alleges that the VA has used personality disorders to attempt to avoid paying claims of PTSD. They can do so because personality disorder isn’t considered service-related.
“Personality disorders have been used by the VA to show that service people were not injured by in-service stressors but really, that their symptoms are just manifestations of previously undiagnosed personality disorders,” Stewart says. “This means that if you had some sort of particular mental disability prior to entering service and being exposed to stressors and stress of service aggravated those, the VA says they are not liable for disability due to PTSD.”
In other words, if you had any sort of pre-existing mental condition prior to entering service, the VA can use that against you to claim what you are now suffering is not service-related PTSD but an aggravation of a pre-existing condition. It’s like an insurance company claiming it’s not liable for back injuries from a car accident because you had some back pain prior to the car accident.
According to an article found online at Veterans for Common Sense (veteransforcommonsense.org; 10/12/10), in 2009, “an expose uncovered the fact that doctors were being pressured by the VA to refrain from diagnosing PTSD, and told to diagnose patients with ‘anxiety, not otherwise specified’ instead. That way, veterans would receive substantially lower disability benefits.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) has expressed concern about the number of veterans discharged due to personality disorder, asking how the soldiers could be deemed combat-ready, only to have a pre-existing personality disorder discovered after they’ve been injured.
“I cannot help but suspect that our men and women are not getting the help that they need and are struggling with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], TBI [traumatic brain injuries], and other stresses of war on their own because of wrongful personality disorder discharges,” Filner said, (quoted by Veterans for Common Sense; 09/21/10).
“I think this [the personality disorder diagnosis] is in reaction to the marked increase in people being diagnosed with PTSD because by 2008, there were 14,000 soldiers diagnosed, twice as many as were diagnosed in 2006,” Stewart says. “This will affect people in the application for benefits and potentially under VA malpractice. If they were misdiagnosed with personality disorder and treated for that instead of PTSD, they may have suffered needlessly due to improper treatment.”