Local News

New VA rules help vets with PTSD

Posted July 13, 2010 5:08 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2010 6:32 p.m. EDT

— Army veteran Arthur Laselle served two year-long tours in Vietnam. Now 65 years old, he said the memories are never far away.

“You go to bed at night, and you still hear the rumble. You still hear the screaming, the hollering and stuff,” he said.

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist diagnosed Laselle, of Fayetteville, with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He said his PTSD has involved nightmares and flashbacks.

For the past 13 years, Laselle has applied for PTSD benefits through the VA, mainly in the form of monthly payments.

Each time he has applied, Laselle said he gets pressed for details, including the dates the incidents took place, what unit he was serving in and a detailed account of his combat.

“They want you to keep opening back up, keeping pouring salt into your wounds all the time, and you can’t fulfill it,” he said.

Then, he said the VA would exhaustively cross-check his account of what happened.

“They just tried to keep bringing it up, and there’s no way in heck I can remember dates that actions happened,” he said.

He eventually grew frustrated trying to provide details to the agency.

“Some of the stuff that’s happened, nobody knows what happened except for the individual (himself),” he said.

Sharon Sanders, director of Cumberland County Veterans Services, said she knows about 100 veterans who were denied PTSD benefits because traumatic events could not be verified.

“You go back 42 years and try to remember something that happened on a particular day when you were in the thick of combat,” Sanders said.

Sanders said she has seen veterans break down in her office. “I’ve had tears. I’ve had veterans walk out of here refusing to deal with the VA anymore, saying, ‘I’m not going to do it if that’s what they want,’” she said.

But new rules announced by the VA on Monday mean veterans like Lasalle won’t have to prove what caused their PTSD. Instead, they would have to show that the conditions surrounding the time and place of their service could have contributed to their illness.

The new rules also consider "perceived threats" as stress-causing events, such as a truck driver living in constant fear of a roadside bomb.

The new rules will apply not only to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but also those who served in previous conflicts.

Laselle said he is relieved by the new rules, but added, “I also feel pain because of having to go through all this hassle continuously all these years.”