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Feds roll out new PTSD benefits for veterans

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • New VA rule makes it easier for veterans to get PTSD benefits
  • Veterans are no longer required to documents specific events causing PTSD
  • VA acknowledging "inherently stressful nature ... of military service"
  • Over 400,000 veterans now receive PTSD benefits

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled new regulations Monday making it easier for men and women who served in the armed forces to receive benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Current department rules require veterans to document events like firefights or bomb explosions that could have caused the disorder. Such documentation was often time-consuming and difficult, and sometimes was impossible.

Under the new rules a veteran only needs to demonstrate that he or she served in a war and performed a job during which events could have happened that could cause the disorder.

"With this new PTSD regulation, we are acknowledging the inherently stressful nature of the places and circumstances of military service, in which the reality and fear of hostile or terrorist activities is always present," said Michael Walcoff, the VA's acting undersecretary for benefits.

The new rule "will potentially benefit all veterans, regardless of their period of service and it is not limited to veterans with direct combat experience," he stressed.

Wolcoff noted that over 400,000 veterans currently receive compensation benefits for PTSD.

In his weekly address on Saturday, President Barack Obama called the change a "long overdue step."

"For years, many veterans with PTSD who have tried to seek benefits -- veterans of today's wars and earlier wars -- have often found themselves stymied. They've been required to produce evidence proving that a specific event caused their PTSD. And that practice has kept the vast majority of those with PTSD who served in non-combat roles, but who still waged war, from getting the care they need," Obama said.

"I don't think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application. And I've met enough veterans to know that you don't have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war. So we're changing the way things are done."

Under the new rules, no benefits will be passed along until a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that a veteran actually suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Department officials say that should reduce the risk of fraudulent claims.

One congressional analysis reportedly put the cost of the new changes at $5 billion.

Obama said the new process "will help veterans not just of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but generations of their brave predecessors who proudly served and sacrificed in all our wars."

"It's a step that proves America will always be here for our veterans, just as they've been there for us. We won't let them down. We take care of our own," he said.

CNN's Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report