July 11, 2010 in City

New policies to aid vets with stress disorder

Katherine Skiba Chicago Tribune
 
Numbers

A Rand Corp. study dating to April 2008 found that nearly 20 percent of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – 300,000 in all – reported symptoms of PTSD or major depression, but only slightly more than half had sought treatment.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, saying that post-traumatic stress injuries are one of two “signature injuries” of today’s wars, announced Saturday that new policies will soon take effect to make it easier for war-zone veterans suffering from the disorder to receive disability benefits.

The president previewed the changes at the Veterans Affairs Department in his Saturday radio address. He said traumatic brain injuries also plague today’s veterans and that too few of them “receive the screening and treatment they need” for both conditions.

In the past, veterans were often “stymied” by a requirement to produce evidence that a specific event triggered their PTSD. That has kept those who served in noncombat roles in war zones from getting the care they need, he said.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can surface after traumatic events and leave sufferers feeling scared, confused or angry, according to the VA’s National Center for PTSD. They may experience flashbacks, become suddenly angry, have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, and develop problems related to relationships, employment, alcohol or drug use.

Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who championed the changes, said veterans had been required to produce incident reports, buddy statements, medals or other corroboration to prove they lived through trauma.

Hall, whose district includes West Point and who chairs a House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance, told of a World War II veteran who twice sank on ships in the Pacific and was rescued. “Like a bad ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, there were body parts and sharks going by him,” the lawmaker said. But when the man sought help during the 1970s, the VA initially dismissed him as having a pre-existing condition, schizophrenia.

He now is receiving disability checks, Hall said.

Hall said the regulation will presume there is a service-related connection when a combat-zone veteran suffers from PTSD.


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