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The Mental Health Review Board Improvement Act may rectify past wrongs.

If you have been following our blog, you have read about the uphill battle that many veterans face when seeking to qualify for disability benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Previous to their filing, veterans may have grappled daily with the anxiety and depression that characterize this disorder. In choosing to publicly acknowledge mental struggles, these former service members risk association with the stigma that is paired with PTSD. In spite of the social implications that can result from admitting to be suffering from PTSD, these former soldiers seek relief that mental health benefit can provide.

Unfortunately, qualifying for assistance is not an easy process. These are the reasons veterans face obstacles when seeking aid for PTSD:

1. Misdiagnosis

The symptoms associated with PTSD may overlap with other disorders. Misdiagnosis commonly occurs because the signs of PTSD may be similar with personality disorder or adjustment disorder.

2. Harmful self-medication

Veterans suffering from this disorder may self-medicate to lessen the psychological impact of condition or act out in ways that are not socially acceptable. Such actions can lead to legal trouble or an "other dishonorable discharge" that can prevent the veteran from receiving sorely needed medical benefits.

3. Relatively recent acknowledgement

Previous to 1980, the condition was not even recognized by the military. A doctor's skepticism of the legitimacy of the condition can limit the number of veterans receiving help.

4. Focus on the bottom line

The Washington Post reported on an incident in which a psychologist in charge of a PTSD program for veterans told her staff to limit PTSD diagnosis due to the cost associated with paying out benefits to those with the disorder.

5. An overburdened benefits system

After 1980, the numbers of soldiers reporting their PTSD has climbed steadily. A 2014 review published by the Institute of Mental Health proposes that "of the 2.6 million troops who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated 7-20% may have PTSD." These numbers reflect possible cases of PTSD, not those receiving treatment.

Rather than working to address the problems and provide financial assistance for those with PTSD, administrators have found a more cost-effective solution: discharging a service member with an "other than honorable" discharge. Releasing soldiers in this manner absolves agencies of the responsibility of covering medical or psychological treatment.

It is for this reason that legislation was passed in 2014 calling for more oversight on mental health reviews. Rather than allowing any physician to review mental health claims, agencies must have a mental health professional review the service member's file. For those receiving less than an honorable discharge, the Military Mental Health Review Board Improvement Act requires a review of a service member's appeal for benefits. It also demands that incorrect discharge records be amended.

For those service members who have been denied mental health benefits, it is possible that rights extended under the Military Mental Health Review Board Improvement Act may right a past wrong. Veterans interested in reviewing their options are advised to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney.

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Alan E. DeWoskin, P.C.
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