The problem with the rule change is that a VA-appointed psychologist or psychiatrist must sign off on the veteran's claim and the VA is not a trusted authority in such matters as helping veterans obtain disability benefits. In so many words the culture of denial goes on, if the VA so decides.
"Only a VA Doctor can make the diagnosis. Get it. Only a VA Doctor can make the diagnosis. My guys with Silver Star Medals and two Purple Heart Medals that the VA says don’t have PTSD. What do they do if the rules change? Can’t go see a private shrink," says one veterans' advocate speaking on background because she often deals with the VA.
Politicians like the new rule because they get to say the process is changing (in theory things could change).
"Before, and for a long time, I've been fighting many times over for the VA not to discourage people from saying they have PTSD. We've have many cases where veterans were told it's all in your head," said Sen. Patty Murray, (D-WA), a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
But hardcore veterans advocates look on warily as PTSD cases pile up.
One veteran's advocate, Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, is trying to change the rule before it gets out of the rule-making process.
Writes Sullivan in a letter dated Oct. 14, 2009, "VA’s proposed regulations do not directly address the problems with the current claims processing system. As a result, VA’s proposed regulation requires significant additional strengthening before it becomes final."
Sullivan proposes language reading: "A veteran will be found to have service connected posttraumatic stress disorder, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, if a stressor or stressors claimed by a veteran is related to the veteran’s deployment to an area of hostilities and a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed therapist, counselor or social worker who has treated or examined the veteran confirms that, assuming the report of the stressor(s) to be accurate, the veteran has posttraumatic stress disorder related to the claimed stressor(s)."
That would work. If Sullivan's language is adoped, veterans and their supporters will know things truly have changed over at the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs.