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VA relaxes PTSD policies
More vets should qualify for benefits
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Veterans claiming to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder will now have an easier time applying for medical benefits from the Veterans Administration. The VA no longer requires a soldier to link his or her PTSD to a single combat incident as long as a VA psychiatrist or psychologist can confirm a PTSD diagnosis. The change went into effect Tuesday.  
According to the VA, more than 400,000 veterans currently receive compensation benefits for PTSD.
The VA defines PTSD as “a medically recognized anxiety disorder that can develop from seeing or experiencing an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to which a person responds with intense fear, helplessness or horror, and is not uncommon among war
Fred Thompson, a service officer with Disabled American Veterans Chapter 46 in Hinesville, said the new policy change is already visibly apparent. One only need count the new VA claim form’s pages, he said.
“The VA just came out with a new set of forms,” Thompson said. “They’re about half the size of the old ones. The new form is seven pages. The old one was 15-18 pages long. And the follow-up claim form is also easier. On the paperwork alone it’s a big time saver for us.”
Thompson cautioned he isn’t sure yet how long the claims process will take for veterans to receive benefits with the new forms. However, the local DAV expects to see more veterans apply for benefits once word gets out about the policy change, he said. Thompson said an increasing number of young vets who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are approaching the DAV for help putting in claims.
The local DAV assisted between 35-45 veterans last month, he said.
According to the VA, 365,836 veterans with a primary or secondary diagnosis of PTSD received treatment at VA medical centers and clinics last year.  Of those veterans treated in 2009 for PTSD, 69,664 (19 percent) were Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. Between 2002 and the end of 2009 approximately 129,654 OEF and OIF veterans received a provisional diagnosis of PTSD in VA medical centers and clinics.
“Here at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center we have certainly increased over the last few years the number of mental-health providers on our staff to meet the needs of our current veterans as well as anticipated needs of combat vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Public Affairs Officer Tonya Lobbestael. “Here, we have an outstanding PTSD team.”
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., treats a significant number of veterans from Coastal Georgia, she confirmed.
Lobbestael said the medical center has “nearly doubled” its staff in recent years and said mental-health providers utilize the “latest treatment options” including exposure therapy. She said successfully treating veterans for PTSD helps shortens their period of care and thus reduces the cost of care.
 “The number of patients we care for annually has risen between five and seven percent every year for several years. We are now taking care of over 50,000 veterans,” Lobbestael said. “We do mental-health screenings, including PTSD, on all our patients to ensure we are treating them properly.”
The VA hired 1,000 new mental-health providers last year alone, she said.
The VA’s policy change will apply to claims received by the VA on or after July 13; received before July 13, but not yet decided by a VA regional office; appealed to the board of veterans’ appeals on or after July 13; appealed to the board before July 13, but not yet decided by the board; and pending before the VA on or after July 13, because the court of appeals for veterans claims vacated a board decision and remanded for re-adjudication.
Disabled veterans can call the DAV for VA claims assistance at 368-2546.The local DAV office is inside the Liberty County Health Department building on Highway 84. Office hours are from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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