- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft

I appreciated the advice you recently provided to a veteran’s spouse on making a claim for Dependency Indemnification Compensation (DIC) as the result of the veterans death being related to a service-connected disability. It was good advice and directed to the point of DIC benefit if the death was the result of a service-connected disability. Not every death may be directly attributable to the veteran’s service-connected disability and claims are reviewed to determine eligibility for the DIC benefit.

There are other programs, such as Death Pension Benefits for Widows/Widowers and Dependent Children, that are needs-based benefits paid to a surviving spouse who has not remarried or an unmarried child of a deceased wartime veteran. Also, and of special significance for qualifying beneficiaries, are aid and attendance and housebound benefits available in addition to the monthly VA pension. Though these programs are needs-based, there are exclusions to income or deductions that may be made to reduce countable income. Information on these programs is available on the Internet at www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/pension/index.htm. These programs often are not known or the criteria of “needs based and exclusions/deductions” are not understood by potential beneficiaries.

The Non Commissioned Officers Association recommends that individuals seek pension benefit information and claim-filing assistance from state or county benefit counselors (locate state contacts through www.nasdva.net), local representatives of national veterans service organizations, or by calling Veterans Affairs toll-free at 800/827-1000.

Richard C. Schneider

Executive director for government affairs

Non Commissioned Officers Association

Dear Dick

Thanks for helping me keep my readership well informed.

Dear Sgt Shaft

The Department of Labor recently launched Disability.gov, a redesigned federal government Web site that connects the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities - their families, employers, work-force and human-resource professionals, veterans, educators, caregivers and many others - to thousands of trusted resources on disability-related issues, programs and services.

Formerly DisabilityInfo.gov, the site has been completely redesigned and updated with new social media tools, including a blog and a Twitter feed, to encourage feedback and interaction among visitors.

We ask that you please let your constituents know about Disability.gov. You can do this by linking to Disability.gov; sending an e-mail to your networks; placing a news item about the site on your Web site, blog or Twitter feed; or in the next issue of your newsletter.

If you are currently linking to www.disabilityinfo.gov from your Web site, please take a moment to update the link to www.disability.gov. Thank you for your support and helping us spread the word about this valuable Web site.

Kathleen Brannigan

Disability.gov

Shaft notes

Rep. John Hall, New York Democrat, recently applauded the announcement by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing a new rule to make it easier for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to receive the benefits they have earned. This new rule is another step toward full adoption of Mr. Hall’s COMBAT PTSD Act (H.R. 952, Compensation Owed for Mental Health Based on Activities in Theater Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Act), legislation Mr. Hall wrote and that passed through the full House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, to remove evidentiary hurdles currently faced by veterans seeking service connection for PTSD.

“I am optimistic that this new rule is going to be a giant step forward in getting veterans the benefits they have earned faster and easier,” Mr. Hall said. “This rule should make major progress in clearing the VA’s claims backlog. I will work with the VA and veterans during the comment period to ensure that the rule in application is as comprehensive and inclusive as my COMBAT PTSD Act.”

Mr. Hall serves as chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, which has jurisdiction over the VA’s compensation system. Mr. Hall has been working for two years to change regulations at the VA that he says make it far too difficult for veterans seeking disability benefits.

“Veterans currently face an adversarial process when they seek treatment and compensation from the VA,” Mr. Hall said. “Our servicemen and women have been forced to ‘prove’ a specific stressor that triggered their PTSD, even if they have already been diagnosed. They need to track down incident reports [and] buddy statements, present medals, and leap other hurdles to meet the threshold that VA mandates in order to receive desperately needed compensation. Just as our military adapts and reforms its strategies in every war it fights, the VA is now adapting to assist the surviving heroes of those wars.”

Mr. Hall’s COMBAT PTSD Act would expand the definition of “combat with the enemy” in Title 38, USC to include active service in a theater of combat. Existing rules state that women are not allowed to serve in combat roles, so women often have a more difficult burden of proof when seeking service-connected benefits for PTSD. The COMBAT PTSD Act essentially would establish service in combat as the presumptive stressor for the occurrence of PTSD. The veteran still would need to be diagnosed clinically with PTSD; however, he or she would no longer need to “prove” the events that caused this diagnosis.

Under the new rule, VA would not require corroboration of a stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirmed that the stressful experience recalled by a veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the veteran’s symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.

Previously, claims adjudicators were required to corroborate that a noncombat veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile military activity. This rule would simplify the documentation required for these cases.

The COMBAT PTSD Act, written by Rep. John Hall, New York Democrat, would expand the definition of “combat with the enemy” to include active service in a theater of combat.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail [email protected]

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