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Obama: New PTSD rules 'long overdue step'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Helping vets with PTSD
  • NEW: Streamlined process begins for easing PTSD documentation requirements
  • Veterans need only prove they served where traumatic events could have happened
  • No benefits will be approved without confirmation the veteran has stress disorder

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is making it easier for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder to get benefits, a development President Barack Obama calls a "long overdue step."

In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said Veterans Affairs will launch new rules for easing PTSD documentation requirements starting next week.

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 need show only that he or she served in a war and performed a job during which events could have happened that could cause the disorder.

"... 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.

"Well, 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.

A senior department official said the cost is "relatively small" because under the older, much longer process, most vets eventually were granted benefits. The new process, while likely granting benefits to more veterans, will be quicker and easier and therefore less costly per case, officials said.

Obama says 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."

CNN's Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.