Bennet, Udall, Salazar Push VA to Streamline Benefits Process for Veterans Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In Letter to Secretary Shinseki, Lawmakers Urge Elimination of Burdensome Rule as Number of Veterans Waiting for Benefits Approaches 1 Million

Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, U.S. Senators for Colorado, and Congressman John Salazar are pushing to streamline a burdensome and tangled VA process that has left military veterans seeking treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) waiting for the benefits they deserve.

In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the three lawmakers wrote that current regulations unfairly burden veterans with having to produce incident reports and statements from fellow soldiers to confirm a link that common sense confirms, even if they have already been diagnosed with PTSD.

The letter asks Shinseki to eliminate the requirement that a claims adjudicator corroborate a veteran's PTSD injuries before benefits can be awarded. PTSD is one of the most frequently occurring injuries among veterans.

"Given how much our veterans have contributed to our nation, we shouldn't make this process any more difficult than it needs to be," Bennet said. "This rule change would cut some of the red tape and remove the hoops veterans currently have to jump through to get the treatment and benefits they deserve."

"Our veterans put their lives on the line for our safety, and in return we made a promise to care for them however we can. That includes providing treatment for psychological as well as physical injuries," Senator Udall said. "We are breaking that promise if we throw barrier after barrier in front of veterans who need help. It's time to change this rule so they can get the services they have earned."

"As the backlog issue persists, it is critical that we work together to find real solutions to get our veterans the benefits they have rightfully earned," said Congressman Salazar. "This proposed rule provides necessary efficiency while also ensuring that proper procedure is followed to prevent fraud. I look forward to working with the administration to find innovative solutions to this chronic problem. It is vital that we continue to address the issue of PTSD, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The full text of the lawmakers' letter to VA Secretary Shinseki is included below:

The Honorable Secretary Shinseki
U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Reference: Proposed Rule RIN 2900-AN 32

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

We write today in support of your efforts to streamline the Department of Veterans' Affairs' process for claiming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) benefits. As the number of veterans waiting for benefits nears the one million mark-and as PTSD continues to be one of the most frequently occurring injuries among our youngest and newest veterans-it is imperative that we do everything we can to streamline the claims process for benefits associated with these injuries.

The proposed regulation (RIN 2900-AN32) would eliminate the requirement that a claims adjudicator corroborate that a veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile military activity before benefits can be awarded. Current regulations require that the veteran seeking benefits must provide documentation of a specific event as a proximate cause of his or her PTSD symptoms, a claim that must be confirmed by a VA psychologist or psychiatrist. This requirement must be met even if a veteran has already been diagnosed with PTSD.

While we realize the need to verify the legitimacy of PTSD claims, we fear that VA's current regulations are preventing deserving veterans-like soldiers who are exposed to the horrors of combat without being able to document a specific event-from getting the compensation they have earned. We believe it is unrealistic to require all veterans who display PTSD symptoms to identify the exact circumstances of the events that likely caused their injuries, and we are concerned that VA's current regulations unfairly burden some veterans who have legitimate PTSD claims.

By implementing this change and making it part of a rigorous, yet streamlined process, we can help make sure the 475,000 veterans in Colorado and the 23 million veterans around the country have access to the services they need and the benefits they have earned quickly and easily. Treating PTSD in a timely fashion is in the public's interest too. We strongly encourage the VA to move forward with this proposed regulation.

Thank you for your service to our nation's bravest.