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Senators urge VA to improve training for PTSD claims

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 18, 2021

WASHINGTON – Two senators introduced legislation Tuesday ordering the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve its claims process after a federal watchdog found that it made mistakes on 15% of claims for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., introduced the VA Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Processing Claims Improvement Act, which aims to boost training for examiners who handle PTSD claims. In December, the VA Office of Inspector General reported that examiners incorrectly processed 18,300 of the 118,000 claims for PTSD in 2019.

The errors resulted in the VA underpaying some veterans and overpaying others, adding up to more than $90 million in improper payments. If the problem continues, the VA could spend an estimated $272 million in improper payments over the next three years, the IG said.

“This kind of error rate is unacceptable,” Rounds said in a statement Tuesday. “The quality of life of our veterans is seriously impacted when these claims are improperly processed.”

Most of the errors were made because the examiners didn’t fully understand the military-related stressors they should identify when making decisions on claims for PTSD. They lacked clear and concise guidance, the IG reported.

The legislation would require the VA to develop and annually update its guidance on PTSD claims and improve its training at the national and regional levels.

“The VA estimates that about 11 to 20 out of every 100 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with potential symptoms of PTSD, making it all the more crucial that we process PTSD claims correctly and efficiently," Klobuchar said.

The VA just took steps this month to improve its processing for claims of military sexual trauma. The agency is designating five specialized offices to handle those claims to create consistency and reduce the rate that claims are denied.

In recent years, federal watchdogs have said that claims for military sexual trauma, as well as PTSD and traumatic brain injury, are especially complex and suggested they be handled by processors who receive special training.

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling