January 25, 2008 – The head of a commission that spent 2½ years studying veterans’ disability benefits says the government needs to do more for those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
Testifying Thursday before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee about a proposal for a comprehensive treatment, rehabilitation and benefits plan for veterans with PTSD and other mental disorders, the chairman of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Committee said current benefits could be described as “just paying people with PTSD to go away.”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott, whose 13-member commission issued its final report late last year, said the government needs a holistic approach that links disability benefits, treatment and vocational training, with an evaluation every two or three years of a veteran’s disability to see if treatment is working.
A study done on behalf of the commission found that 31 percent of veterans with disabilities rated at less than 100 percent who receive bigger monthly benefits from the VA because they are considered unemployable have PTSD or other mental health disorders, a figure that could be reduced with better coordination between the benefits and health care arms of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
At the moment, the two VA divisions cannot even agree on the definition of “recovery.”
Most veterans receiving disability benefits for PTSD and other mental health issues are from the Vietnam era, but Scott said VA needs to be prepared for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who seek counseling, treatment and benefits.
The idea of regular re-evaluations of a veteran’s PTSD, especially for veterans considered unemployable and thus eligible for higher compensation, is controversial, but veterans groups appear to be warming to the idea that VA needs a more comprehensive plan.
Steve Smithson of the American Legion, who testified at the same hearing, said his organization supports the call for a combined treatment and benefits plan, but is “concerned that a mandatory re-evaluation every two to three years could result in undue stress.”
Veterans with PTSD “may be fearful that the sole purpose of such a reevaluation would be to reduce compensation benefits,” Smithson said, which is exactly the argument that led the VA to drop plans several years ago to review all PTSD cases.