New PTSD Legislation Discussed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Kristal DeKleer (202) 225-9756

http://veterans.house.gov

Chairman Hall Holds Hearing to Discuss the COMBAT PTSD Act, H.R. 952

Washington D.C. – On Thursday, April 23, 2009, Congressman John J. Hall (D-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, conducted a hearing to discuss H.R. 952, the Compensation Owed for Mental Health Based on Activities in Theater Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Act, or COMBAT PTSD Act.  The bill addresses the difficulties veterans encounter when required to prove stressors in order to receive service-connected compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder incurred as a result of their military service.

Chairman Hall, the sponsor of H.R. 952, said, “The original intent of Congress in 1941 in enacting the statute in question, was to extend full cooperation to our war-time wounded veterans.  Over time, VA regulations, procedures and General Counsel decisions have resulted in a more restrictive and unreasonable process for our veterans trying to prove an injury or stressful event occurred in combat.  It is time to clarify the meaning of ‘combat with the enemy’ that reflects the realities of modern warfare and affords our veterans the benefits that they have earned.”

Specifically, H.R. 952 would clarify the definition of "combat with the enemy" to include “active duty service in a theater of combat operations during a period of war or in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities.” This expansion would help ease the adverse effects on veterans of having to provide non-essential corroborating evidence of engaging in combat with the enemy when a medical diagnosis is present and the injuries are consistent with the duties and hardship of service.

Barton F. Stichman, Joint Executive Director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, testified:

“Under current law, VA has to expend more time and resources to decide PTSD claims than almost every other type of claim.  A major reason that these claims are so labor intensive is that in most cases, VA believes that the law requires it to conduct an extensive search for evidence that may corroborate the veteran’s testimony that he experienced a stressful event during military service.  According to the VA, an extensive search for corroborating evidence is necessary even when the medical evidence shows that the veteran currently suffers from PTSD, and mental health professionals attribute the PTSD to stressful events that occurred during military service.  Often there is no corroborative evidence that can be found – not because the in-service stressful event did not occur – but because the military did not and does not keep detailed records of every event that occurred during periods of war in combat zones.”

“Adoption of this bill would mean that Congress would enable disabled combat veterans, particularly those diagnosed with PTSD, to have their claims for benefits decided fairly without facing the unnecessary and often insurmountable documentation hurdles imposed by VA to show that an in–service stressor occurred.” said Chairman Hall.  “Instead of helping these veterans reach an optimal point of social and emotional homeostasis, VA’s procedures are an obstacle to this end--inflicting upon the most noble of our citizens a process that feels accusatory and doubtful of their service."

H.R. 952 currently has 42 cosponsors including Bob Filner, Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  Chairman Filner commented, “We know the costs in lost lives, health impacts, and decreased employment productivity when the fallout from combat issues is not addressed.  We must address the needs of our returning veterans and H.R. 952 reflects our understanding that PTSD can be a consequence of war--and the true cost of war includes the cost of the warrior.  In fact, one in every five returning OEF and OIF veteran has been diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD.  We cannot be content to send our troops to war and not be prepared to provide the compassion, care, and benefits that our veterans deserve upon returning from serving our country.”

At this time, a Subcommittee markup for H.R. 952 has not yet been scheduled.  The bill must be approved by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs before being considered by the full U.S. House of Representatives.

Witness List

Panel 1

  • John Wilson, Associate National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans

  • Bart Stichman, Joint Executive Director, National Veterans Legal Service Program

  • Norm Bussel, Trustee, Adjutant and Commander, Hudson Valley Chapter American Ex-Prisoners of War

  • Richard Cohen, Executive Director, National Organization of Veterans Advocates

Panel 2

  • Bradley G. Mayes, Director Compensation and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, United States Department of Veterans Affairs

  • Accompanied by Richard Hipolit, Assistant General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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Prepared testimony for the hearing and an audio recording of the hearing is available on the internet at this link: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=379.