New Regulations May Ease Vets With PTSD

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs will announce new regulations that will make it easier for military veterans to claim disabilities from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The current rules have been criticized for being unnecessarily time-consuming and even discriminatory. Host Liane Hansen talks with Dr. Jim Dwyer, a psychiatrist with the VA of Greater Los Angeles.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Tomorrow, the Department of Veterans Affairs will announce new regulations that will make it easier for military veterans to claim disabilities from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The current rules have been criticized for being unnecessarily time-consuming and even discriminatory.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama spoke of the new policy in his weekly address.

President BARACK OBAMA: I don't think our troops on the battlefield should have to keep notes just in case they need to apply for a claim. And I've met enough veterans to know that you don't have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war. So, we're changing the way things are done.

HANSEN: James Dwyer is the chief of PTSD services for the VA of Greater Los Angeles. It's the largest integrated health-care organization in the Department of Veteran Affairs. He explains some of the changes for us.

Dr. JAMES DWYER (Chief of PTSD Services, VA of Greater Los Angeles): Well, I think the most important change is that our veterans are really - they're not going to have to go through this kind of adversarial proving position. The VA grants disability, but there's quite an elaborate system and program. To get through it, you have to prove that you were at the place you said you were at, and the things that happened to you really happened.

For many, many veterans, that's relatively easy to do. But for many of our veterans it's not, particularly if records were lost, if they can't remember certain things. So this is a very, very big step in really helping veterans get rightfully earned, you know, disability benefits.

HANSEN: How will women veterans be affected? Because I understand women have a harder time justifying their disability claims.

Dr. DWYER: I really think all veterans will get help with this. I think that women who are on the, you know, front lines and also supportive roles - you know, I think probably the supportive soldier - experience combat stress, what we call secondary stress. And they have the same system, you know, cluster as combat veterans. And I think their situation has been more difficult to prove.

HANSEN: So, what does a veteran actually gain once he or she has an approved PTSD disability claim?

Dr. DWYER: Well, you know, the disabilities run all the way from 0 percent to 100 percent. And there's benefits, there's health care for the 100 percent veteran, which is total and permanent disability. There's a range of benefits, all the way from school tuition to rehabilitation to - there's just all kinds of things.

HANSEN: Right. Not to mention monthly disability payments...

Dr. DWYER: That's right.

HANSEN: ...which can go up to, like, $3,000 a month sometimes.

Dr. DWYER: Yes.

HANSEN: Yeah. But does - is there any concern at all that this might open the door to fraud for people who want to game the system for financial gain?

Dr. DWYER: That's always a potential. And every large system has to deal with that. I think, though, veterans are very special. And I think anyone who puts on the uniform, signs the paper, goes over, serves, should have the benefit of the doubt.

HANSEN: James Dwyer is the chief of PTSD services for the Veterans Administration of Greater Los Angeles. He joined us from NPR West. Thank you.

Dr. DWYER: Thank you so much.

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