The Department of Veterans Affairs has been served.
Three veteran advocacy organizations are taking the VA to court for the VA’s recent change that mandates only doctors who work for the VA can diagnose veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and therefore dismiss private doctor’s diagnoses. The National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Modern Warfare filed suit in November.
When the VA made the change last year, it came with another change. Veterans can make PTSD claims by proving they served in a war zone and describing what they did there. Before, filing a PTSD claim was difficult because it required witnesses of events that caused PTSD and corroboration with documents.
But Richard Cohen, director of NOVA, finds fault with making veterans get PTSD diagnoses from VA doctors. As a result of this change, the VA can ignore diagnoses from private examiners and consider only the VA doctors’ examinations, he said.
Before implementing the change in July of last year, VA officials said in congressional testimony that VA doctors are better and more experienced than private examiners at recognizing PTSD. As part of their suit, the co-plaintiffs suggest that the VA has no grounds for that claim. Furthermore, the VA undersecretary for health struck down arguments that VA doctors would write off valid PTSD claims.
In the meantime, PTSD claims continue to soar, about 125 percent more in 2010 than 2009 according to CNN. The number of claims in 1999 was about 120,000 but climbed to 345,000 in 2008 due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the VA already backlogged by PTSD claims and more ailments attributed to Agent Orange, the VA allocated $2.15 billion to streamline processing benefits.
Almost $65 billion is set for mandatory benefits, which is an increase of about $7 billion from 2010’s budget. As the government looks to make budget cuts, veteran groups dislike the idea of cutting the VA’s budget to reduce the deficit. Cohen said that denying benefits to veterans is an “outrageous” way to trim the budget.
Photo thanks to Truthout.org under creative common license on Flickr.