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Rules eased for filing PTSD claims

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By Ed O'Keefe
Friday, July 9, 2010

Veterans organizations are eagerly anticipating changes in government policy designed to ease the burden of proof for receiving disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, saying new rules should help veterans receive fair compensation for the mental scars of war.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is to announce Monday that veterans will no longer need to provide detailed documentation proving they experienced a traumatic event during combat in order to file PTSD disability claims, congressional aides and veterans advocates said.

Eligible veterans instead will be screened by VA medical staff to confirm that claims are consistent with the location and circumstances of military service and PTSD symptoms, which often include nightmares, flashbacks, irritability and deep depression.

The changes follow more than a year of work by Obama administration officials, lawmakers and veterans advocates. VA officials declined to comment ahead of Monday's anticipated announcement.

The changes could make life easier for Robert Kingsley, 27, an Air Force veteran waiting for full disability benefits though VA considers him unemployable.

Others might also avoid the experience of Navy reservist Richard Sanchez, 43, whose PTSD claims were approved in May after he filed more than five years of paperwork.

And female veterans should have an easier time earning benefits, because Pentagon rules prohibiting front-line action make it difficult to prove stressful combat events, advocates said.

Women often face more skepticism about PTSD claims during visits to male-dominated VA medical centers, said retired Army Sgt. Carolyn Schapper.

"If you happen to go once and the first person you speak to questions the authenticity of your story, you're less likely to go back," she said. "That's true for men and women, but women are more likely to be questioned than men."

She had an easier time filing disability claims because of her rank, she said.

But "if you think you have PTSD because a mortar was hitting your forward operating base, you more than likely don't have paperwork," Schapper added.

That lack of proof prolonged Sanchez's efforts. A veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sanchez injured his back and right ankle in 2006 while serving in Kuwait as a truck driver. In 2008 he was admitted into a VA treatment program for PTSD symptoms, but the department denied his disability claims soon after, he said.


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