VA Expands Mental Health Care for Veterans with Other-Than-Honorable Discharges

Gregory M. Rada Health Benefits

In a change to longstanding policy, the VA will now provide emergency mental health care to veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. As of July 2017, all former service members suffering from a mental health emergency may access the VA health care system by visiting a VA emergency room, an outpatient clinic, or a vet center, and by calling the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).

This new policy is aimed at reducing the increasingly high suicide rates among veterans. VA Secretary David Shulkin pushed for the change, stating in recent remarks to the congressional appropriation committee, that “suicide prevention is the VA’s highest clinical priority” and noting that the majority of veterans that commit suicide each day have not received health care within the VA system.

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PTSD Update: New Research Reveals Physical Effects on the Brain

Gregory M. Rada Disability Compensation

While traumatic stress from combat is as old as war itself, PTSD did not become an official psychological diagnosis until 1980. Psychological symptoms associated with PTSD are varied and may include persistent nightmares, intrusive thoughts, negative changes in mood, and heightened reactivity.

According to new research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference, PTSD may also result in physical changes to the brain. In particular, veterans with PTSD tend to have a larger right amygdala—the part of the brain that controls fear and regulates emotion.

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Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Support Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma

Gregory M. Rada Legal Update

Last month U.S. legislators introduced H.R. 1954 – the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2017. In large part, legislators drafted H.R. 1954 in response to reports of nude photos of female service members being posted online. The bill is aimed at ensuring that these veterans have sufficient access to counseling and benefits. Under the present laws, it is not clear that victims of cyber sexual harassment are eligible for these services.

Legislators also drafted the bill to make it easier for victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) to prove disability claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). H.R. 1954 would change the standard of proof and allow for the victim’s own testimony to corroborate these claims. Advocacy groups have been working to lessen the burden of proof for years, arguing the current standard unfairly disadvantages MST victims who do not have sufficient corroborating evidence.

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VA Finalizes Camp Lejeune Presumptive Conditions

Gregory M. Rada Disability Compensation, Legal Update

After a long wait, the Department of Veterans Affairs has finalized and released regulations that establish a presumption of service connection for certain conditions caused by contaminants in the water supply at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Camp Lejune Contaminated Drinking Water

The amended regulations apply to veterans, former reservists, and former National Guard members who served for at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. During that time, service members were exposed to water contaminated with the toxic chemicals trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. These toxic chemicals contaminated the water supply to housing facilities, recreational facilities, and the base hospital, and reached service members through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion of the contaminated water.

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VA Issues Updated Guidelines for Partial Knee Replacements

Gregory M. Rada Disability Compensation, Legal Update

This past November, the VA updated the portion of the M21-1 Manual that instructs VA raters how to process claims for evaluations of partial knee replacements. This update is a response to a decision by the Federal Circuit in Hudgens v. McDonald, which I wrote about in a previous post.

In Hudgens, the Federal Circuit held that partial knee replacements qualify for the one-year temporary 100% disability rating under Disability Code (DC) 5055. The November 2016 update to the M21-1 Manual, however, takes a very restrictive view of the Hudgens case and limits when the VA will apply DC 5055 to partial knee replacements.Read More