Thousands of vets with PTSD could get benefits upgrade

WASHINGTON — A military review could bring millions of dollars in benefits to thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The military has agreed to review the records of recent veterans discharged with PTSD to decide whether they were improperly denied benefits.

The agreement stems from a judge's order in a class-action lawsuit originally filed by seven combat veterans. They said the military illegally denied benefits to those discharged, at least in part, because of the disorder during a six-year period that ended Oct. 14, 2008.

Legal notices are being mailed to about 4,300 veterans informing them they can "opt-in" to the lawsuit until July 24 to be part of the expedited review. Attorneys for the veterans estimate that millions of dollars could be paid to veterans under the agreement, with some veterans receiving hundreds or more dollars in increased monthly benefits.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a terrifying event in which the person was physically harmed or felt threatened. Symptoms can range from flashbacks to problem drinking.

At issue is the disability rating given by the military to veterans discharged with PTSD. Each of the seven plaintiffs was given a rating of 10 percent or less.

The law requires the military to assign a disability rating of at least 50 percent to those discharged for PTSD, said Bart Stichman, co-executive director the National Veterans Legal Services Program, a nonprofit organization that represents the veterans. Since October 2008, the military has given the 50 percent rating to those discharged with PTSD, Stichman said.

The higher rating ensures that the veteran receives lifelong monthly disability payments, free health care for the veteran and the veteran's spouse and health care for the veteran's minor children.

If a veteran qualifies for a higher disability rating, he or she may receive back pay and reimbursement for health care expenses.

To help the affected veterans, the National Veterans Legal Services Program and Morgan Lewis and Bockius LLP law firm have coordinated about 100 volunteer lawyers to offer free counseling.

Stichman said it's possible some veterans will qualify as part of the class-action suit who did not serve in combat, but instead were discharged for PTSD related to some other type of traumatic event, such as rape.

Thousands of vets with PTSD could get benefits upgrade 01/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2010 10:23pm]

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