Jul 19, 2010

State Journal Runs Good Piece on New PTSD Rules

Steven Verburg has a good, local follow-up in the State Journal on veterans' reaction to the new PTSD VA rules that cut through the red tape with which our veterans contend.

Verburg presents the case of local veteran Stephen Jackson, who served in Vietnam from 1972 to 1973, was diagnosed with PTSD and still can not get benefits--but likely can now under the new rules.

The piece dwells too much on the knockdown; too much neocon twaddle about the potential for fraud and the ever-present danger that our veterans are a bunch of liars.

"Dane County Veterans Service Officer Michael Jackson said he expects claims from Vietnam-era and earlier veterans 'will be coming out of the woodwork, grasping at straws,' and unrealistic claims will be denied," writes Verburg.

The sourcing of veteran service officers ignores what is common knowledge among veteran advocates: Veterans service officers are often part of the problem. It's a roll of the dice for veterans of whom they talk to.

And the neocon, ‘crat culture that veterans run into? No mention.

And describing veterans as coming out of the woodwork and grasping at straws? Sounds like a VA bureaucrat trying to deny, delay and hope the veterans die.

Talk to any Vietnam veteran and they will tell you in so many words: It's often guys waiting and listening but not engaging who come home the worst for it. But it's unpredictable.

Servicemen and women take an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, but their word on how they're doing afterwards is not taken at face value.


  1. Very well said!

    Following is the comment I posted to the WSJ article:

    Under the old rules, a veteran not only had to write and submit a "stressor statement" -- a cruel and unusual requirement for veterans suffering from PTSD, of which a primary symptom is avoidance of all thoughts, memories, emotions, sights, and sounds associated with the trauma -- but also had to have independently verifiable, documentary evidence of "the event" (or events) about which they wrote.

    In the midst of modern wars and conflicts involving U.S. troops, note taking and recordkeeping are rarely high on the priority list, making documentation to back up veterans' PTSD written "stressor statement" claims hard or impossible to come by. Are every single rocket, mortar, and IED attack dutifully not just recorded, but saved in each involved unit’s or service members’ individual personnel record? Of course not.

    And how about the day-in-day-out experiences of the hostile, unpredictable, and potentially deadly acts of driving through rioting crowds, traversing across minefields, searching house to house for weapons or insurgents, flying over or sailing next to gun-firing enemies, all just another day’s work in operations as diverse as not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Lebanon, and many more?

    Are those experiences dutifully recorded each and every time to ensure that each and every future veteran can be service-connected for PTSD if necessary? Of course not. And during the Cold War, “small” battles and "minor" incidents (minor for the nation, but often not at all minor for the service members directly involved) were not always well documented, certainly not in the way that the old VA rules required for granting service-connection to the veterans of those highly traumatic experiences.

    And in the modern, post-Cold War world of counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and counter-insurgency, and operations other than full combat, incidents involving life-or-death are frequent, particularly for special operations troops whose in-service experiences are least likely to be recorded -- especially in ways that are both accessible to VA claims staff and meet VA's old rules of verification.

    Add to that a disastrous records fire in 1973 at the nation's military record facility that destroyed all Army personnel records and Air Force records for individuals with last names beginning with A through M, and the unfairness to veterans goes back even further.

    Without that solid "proof," veterans’ claims have been denied for decades. For veterans with physical injuries, all that has to be proved for VA service-connection is that the physical injury was incurred or aggravated during active duty military service (and, of course, that it's currently disabling, and that the current disability is clearly linked to the in-service injury or aggravation of the physical condition). In fact, an exit physical showing the injury, which is clearly lacking from the pre-service physical exam, will suffice, as it should. No one has to prove that the physical injuries took place during one or another particular combat or engagement with the enemy, and certainly not to the level required for "proving" PTSD under the old rules.

  2. ...continued: To hold PTSD to a radically different standard for all these years has unjustly led to the denial of countless veterans' claims for service-connection and the help that brings.

    I would think our state's leading, front-line advocates would support this decision too, so perhaps it was just the author of this article who decided to put so much column space into focusing on the possibility of abuse. That said, will the new rules potentially allow some small handful of individuals to seek mental health treatment for conditions from which they really don't suffer, then apply for service-connection benefits which they really don't deserve? Yes, that is theoretically possible, but far better to include an grant benefits to an unworthy handful than to continue to unjustifiably deny countless veterans with PTSD who are truly in need, as has for far too long been the case under the needlessly unfair and overly burdensome old rules.

    Sec. Shinseki’s courageous and long overdue decision should be heralded by veterans and veterans advocates everywhere as a fair and just huge step in the right direction. The new VA leadership should be praised for finally drawing the lines far enough out to ensure service-connection and the health care and disability benefits that go along with it can finally go to all those truly suffering lasting negative mental health effects from their combat experiences -- however those traumatizing life-or-death experiences were incurred.

    -Anthony Hardie, Madison, Wis.