Here is our VCS letter to Secretary Shinseki urging him to use his rule-making authority to promulgate a regulation establishing a presumption of service connection for Gulf War, Iraq War, and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) based on the recent Institute of Medicine report linking PTSD with deployment to a war zone.
January 26, 2009
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
On behalf of our 14,400 members, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) congratulates you for becoming our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. VCS strongly supports your goal of transforming and improving the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
As of September 30, 2008, more than 105,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by VA. However, as of August 31, 2008, only 42,000 were granted service-connected disability for PTSD by VA. We believe this discrepancy is an outrage that can be addressed with a new regulation.
VCS has long promoted the use of your rule-making authority to promulgate a regulation establishing a presumption of service connection for PTSD. A new PTSD regulation deserves your urgent attention because it will significantly reduce the disability claim backlog crisis now facing VA. The backlog crisis will only worsen as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue.
In 2008, VA made progress on this issue by accepting the recommendation of Senator Daniel Akaka, Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, to accept military diagnoses of PTSD for claims purposes. If an Iraq or Afghanistan war service member being discharged has a diagnosis of PTSD from the military, then VA shall grant a 50 percent disability rating.
VCS believes the “Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998” and new scientific research should prompt regulations for conditions associated with deployment to Southwest Asia.
A scientific literature review conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) titled “Gulf War and Health (2008)” concluded, “The epidemiologic literature on deployed vs nondeployed veterans yielded sufficient evidence of an association between deployment to a war zone and psychiatric disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other anxiety disorders, and depression; alcohol abuse; accidental death and suicide in the first few years after return from deployment; and marital and family conflict, including interpersonal violence.”
The definition of the Gulf War dates under 38 USC 101(33) and the definition of the Gulf War locations under 38 CFR 3.317 provide you with broad authority to provide disability compensation to veterans deployed to the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations on or after August 2, 1990.
In order to clarify the population covered by a new regulation, VA may want to revise 38 CFR 3.317 to include all of the nations and bodies of water ever identified by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the Gulf War, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War.
Preparing a new regulation for PTSD begins the process of transforming VA by reversing the prior Administration’s pattern and practice of opposing PTSD benefits. During 2005, VA took four improper steps to block and otherwise hinder access to healthcare and disability compensation for veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
First, VA attempted to re-examine more than 70,000 veterans’ previously granted PTSD disability compensation. After reviewing more than 1,000 claims, VA investigators found no fraud cases. Congress blocked VA’s review after a distraught veteran in New Mexico completed suicide after hearing news of VA’s new policy.
Second, VA issued a Fast Letter that required two signatures to grant a disability compensation claim for PTSD – denials and other conditions were excluded. After a public outcry, VA suspended (but did not rescind) the Fast Letter.
Third, VA issued another Fast Letter that mandated a review by VA Central Office for all large retroactive disability compensation awards. VCS viewed the new VA policy as another attempt to block PTSD awards since PTSD claims take, on average, longer than six months to process, and several more years to resolve under an appeal, often resulting in large retroactive awards. VCS asks you to rescind both Fast Letters.
Fourth, VA also entered into two contracts with IOM to review the legitimacy of the PTSD diagnosis and the adequacy of disability compensation for PTSD. The IOM validated the diagnosis of PTSD and called for greater disability compensation for veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
Again, we offer our sincere congratulations on your confirmation as America’s top veterans’ advocate. We look forward to working with you to transform VA and put our veterans first.