Tuesday, February 17, 2009

PTSD and Rulemaking, per Veterans for Common Sense

Here's a letter from the group Veterans for Common Sense suggesting how existing law could improve the PTSD situation, without additional legislative action (except, most likely, appropriations of money:
"On January 26, VCS sent a letter to our new VA Secretary, Erik Shinseki, urging him to use his rule-making authority to promulgate a regulation establishing a presumption of service connection for deployed veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) based on the recent Institute of Medicine report linking PTSD with deployment to a war zone. http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/articleid/12186

VA reports more than 105,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are already diagnosed with PTSD. http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/articleid/12148. Many of the bureaucratic hurdles veterans face for treatment and benefits start in the military. That's why VCS developed four priority items for the military to improve how the military handles PTSD during 2009:

1. VCS urges DoD to implement the 1997 Force Health Protection law, PL 105-85, Section 761-771, that requires the military to provide pre- and post-deployment medical exams to all service members. The Government Accounting Office and the Institute of Medicine found the current system of asking soldiers to self-report mental illness was woefully inadequate. We believe mandatory exams by physicians will reduce stigma against PTSD by normalizing the exam process. When a civilian police officer is involved in a shooting, he or she receives a mandatory exam before returning to duty. This same standard of required exams should apply to all our troops when they return home from combat.

2. VCS urges DoD to implement a strong anti-stigma program as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2009. We believe that attitudes toward veterans with PTSD will change with education about the causes, symptoms, and treatments. Education should describe the devastating consequences of untreated PTSD like broken families, unemployment, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and suicide. We believe that reducing stigma will encourage more veterans to seek treatment and provide a smoother readjustment for our veterans into colleges, jobs, and communities without fear of discrimination.

3. VCS urges DoD to hire additional mental health professionals to meet the increasing demand for examinations and treatment. In February 2007, the American Psychological Association reported a 40 percent vacancy rate for mental health professionals within the Department of Defense. If DoD plans to perform the mandatory exams in a timely manner, then the military must have a sufficient supply of mental health practitioners to meet the ever-increasing demand. More than 717,000 troops have deployed two or more times to the war zones, and these veterans are now at greater risk for developing PTSD than those who deploy only once. Identification and early treatment for PTSD will save taxpayers' money and help stem the growing suicide epidemic.

4. VCS urges VA to work more closely with DoD implementing the Force Health Protection law so VA has sufficient records to provide medical care and process disability claims. We believe that many of the problems VA faces when dealing with PTSD arise due to inadequate military policies that flow unchecked downstream toward VA. We are concerned that there are 105,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans diagnosed by VA with PTSD, yet only 42,000 veterans receive VA disability compensation for PTSD - an unacceptable 40 percent approval rate that may be caused by a lack of military medical records. VCS also urges VA to grant automatic disability benefits to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed with PTSD by VA.

We know these are ambitious goals, but we here at VCS believe they are necessary to reduce the rising tide of PTSD-related violence and suicides among our veterans. Your contribution to VCS will help make this ambitious agenda for 2009 attainable.

Thank you,

Paul Sullivan
Executive Director
Veterans for Common Sense"

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