How Much Does the New PTSD Rule Really Help Veterans?

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced recently that new federal guidelines will change the claims process for military veterans seeking disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The new process, which took effect July 13, eliminates a rule that required each veteran applying for benefits to pinpoint the exact event responsible for the PTSD symptoms (such as a bomb blast or a hostage situation) and provide documentation of that event.

The new process has been widely touted as making it easier for veterans to receive benefits for the disorder, which, while severely debilitating in many cases, has been notoriously difficult to prove for veterans seeking disability benefits. The changes have drawn criticism, however, from some veterans advocates who are skeptical of the new rule, believing it to be less beneficial than it appears for vets seeking help with PTSD.

A provision of the new rule requires that the final determination in each case must be made by a VA doctor --- not the applicant's own private doctor. The Department of Veterans Affairs has said that requiring its own government-employed doctors to determine eligibility in each case will promote consistency in the evaluation process and help weed out fraudulent claims.

Many veterans, however, object to that aspect of the rule. They argue that vets suffering the symptoms of PTSD often have ongoing relationships with private doctors who they have been seeing for years. These doctors have a more in-depth familiarity with the patient and the symptoms, and are better equipped to make diagnoses based on a patient's background and overall health.

Critics of the new rule have also voiced concerns that the exclusion of private doctors from the evaluation process enables government doctors to reject legitimate claims without recourse, thereby undermining whatever potential benefits the streamlined claims process could otherwise provide for veterans struggling with PTSD.

One veterans group, the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates (NOVA), even voiced constitutional concerns in an emphatic letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs, citing veterans' rights to participate in adjudication process will be violated by not allowing them to submit medical evidence of their claims. NOVA disapproves of the legislation because of the risk that veterans suffering from PTSD will be misdiagnosed with non-service-connected depression, resulting in rejection of their claims and denial of the benefits they need.