WASHINGTON — Veterans could find an easier path to receiving disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder under new rules expected to take effect as early as next week.
The policy change, in the works at the Department of Veterans Affairs for months, would reduce the burden of proof on claiming stress disorders related to their time in the military. Advocacy groups have been pushing for the change for years, saying existing rules cheat many former servicemembers out of rightful compensation.
Under current rules, troops who served in combat roles and later suffered post-traumatic stress disorder were assumed to have a service-related illness. But those who didn’t serve on the front lines needed documentation and witness testimony to prove their illness was connected to their service.
Veterans groups have testified to Congress that troops serving in support roles in Iraq and Afghanistan who were injured by roadside bombs in many cases still had to prove their PTSD was service-related, since the attacks weren’t considered formal combat.
Under the new rule, claims adjusters will be instructed to accept any valid PTSD diagnosis as combat related if the veteran can prove they served in a war zone and provide basic evidence of their role there. The change would also apply to past wars, meaning Vietnam veterans could benefit from the change.
The VA has seen a dramatic rise in PTSD disability claims over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; from fiscal 1999 to fiscal 2008, the number increased from 120,000 to 345,520. Veterans groups say those actually suffering from PTSD is even higher, with the difficulty of filing a claim and the stigma of PTSD hiding thousands of other cases.
VA officials have planned a press conference to detail the new rules on Monday, when the changes become official. They’ve also planned a public push to explain to veterans how to apply for the additional compensation.
Congressional estimates say the new rule change could cost up to $5 billion over the next decade.