Veterans who have been denied disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to military sexual trauma (MST) are now able to have those cases re-examined by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
Since 2011, VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey has been working to correct the disparity in claims approval ratings for PTSD related to combat versus PTSD stemming from MST. From 2008 to 2010, the approval rate for PTSD claims related to MST was only about one third. Today, roughly 55 percent of those claims are granted, while there is a similar 60-percent grant rate for all PTSD claims.
This is due in part to better training for claims specialists, but it also reflects a change in the mandated burden of proof required for approval.
In April, the VBA mailed letters to some 2,500 veterans whose claims for MST-related PTSD were denied. The letter explained to veterans that they can request that their case be reopened to add evidence that may have been previously overlooked.
National Service Director Jim Marszalek said his staff also sent letters in November to veterans whose claims were handled by DAV, to offer specific guidance on the re-evaluation process and the supporting evidence that can be considered. Guidance was also given to National Service Officers on the changes.
“We wanted to be sure the veterans we represent knew exactly what steps to take and what evidence may be used to re-evaluate their claim,” said Marszalek. “They need a knowledgeable, direct point of contact. The last thing these veterans need is to discuss their MST claim with a dozen people before finding the one who can help.”
The VA has also relaxed the evidentiary requirements necessary to validate a claim. Claims-rating specialists now look for “markers” that indicate a specified traumatic event. These can include:
- Records from law enforcement authorities, rape crisis centers, mental health counseling centers, hospitals or physicians
- Relationship issues, such as divorce
- Pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Statements from family members, roommates, fellow service members, clergy members or counselors
- Requests for transfer to another military duty assignment
- Deterioration in work performance
- Substance abuse
- Episodes of depression, panic attacks or anxiety without an identifiable cause
- Unexplained economic or social behavioral changes
- Sexual dysfunction
“Veterans who did not receive the VA letter can still request to have their claim reviewed, if it was previously denied,” said Deputy National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “Any additional supporting evidence, such as statements from family or fellow service members, or markers not previously identified, can be very valuable in the re-evaluation process.”