Text: H.R.5448 — 110th Congress (2007-2008)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in House (02/14/2008)


110th CONGRESS
2d Session
H. R. 5448


To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the disability compensation evaluation procedure of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, to improve the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.


IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

February 14, 2008

Mr. Allen (for himself and Mr. Michaud) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs


A BILL

To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the disability compensation evaluation procedure of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, to improve the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. Short title.

This Act may be cited as the “Full Faith in Veterans Act of 2008”.

SEC. 2. Findings.

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Men and women who serve in the Armed Forces make great sacrifices for the Nation and for freedom.

(2) The Nation takes great pride in the integrity of members of the Armed Forces and places full faith and confidence in these men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

(3) The Nation should extend such full faith to the integrity of those men and women when they make claims for disability compensation related to their service.

(4) In the spirit of the Armed Forces’ pledge never to leave a man behind, the Nation should never leave a veteran behind.

(5) Military service is inherently dangerous and stressful whether during peacetime or during war.

(6) Post-traumatic stress disorder (referred to in this section as “PTSD”) is a debilitating mental health condition linked to military service that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should make every effort to diagnose and effectively treat.

(7) It is recognized in the medical community that PTSD can onset at anytime after a traumatic event, and the course of the disorder can contain periods of both relapse and remission.

(8) Denial by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs of claims for disability compensation for PTSD due to incomplete military records does a disservice to those who have honorably served the country.

(9) Military records that would validate such claims may have been lost due to no fault of the veteran.

(10) Due to the dangerous and fast-paced environment in which the members of the Armed Forces operate, not every significant and possibly traumatic incident in the life and service of each member is chronicled accurately or completely.

(11) Evaluations for disability compensation for PTSD often place veterans under the additional hardship of reliving traumatic events by describing them to unfamiliar medical professionals.

(12) According to the Institute of Medicine and representatives of certain veterans’ service organizations, evaluations for pension and disability compensation for PTSD are sometimes completed in as little as 20 minutes, despite recommendations of the mental health community that evaluations should take place over a period of one hour or more.

(13) The Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, established pursuant to title XV of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, issued recommendations to improve the care, compensation, and treatment of veterans diagnosed with PTSD, including updating the schedule for rating disabilities under section 1155 of title 38, United States Code, establishing new criteria for the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, and using a holistic approach to treat veterans with PTSD that incorporates treatment, compensation, and vocational assessment.

SEC. 3. Standard of proof for service-connection of post-traumatic stress disorder.

(a) Standard of proof.—Section 1154 of title 38, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

“(c) The Secretary shall accept as sufficient proof of service-connection of post-traumatic stress disorder alleged to have been incurred in or aggravated by service in the active military, naval, or air service a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder by a mental health professional together with a written determination by the professional that such disorder is related to the veteran’s service, if consistent with the circumstances, conditions, or hardships of such service, notwithstanding the fact that there is no official record of such incurrence or aggravation in such service, and, to that end, shall resolve every reasonable doubt in favor of the veteran. Service-connection of post-traumatic stress disorder may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. In the case of such a rebuttal, the Secretary shall make all documents related to the service-connection of the veteran’s disability available to the veteran.”.

(b) Applicability.—Subsection (c) of section 1154 of title 38, United States Code, shall apply with respect to any claim for disability compensation under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for which no final decision has been made before the date of the enactment of this Act.

SEC. 4. Improvement of Department of Veterans Affairs evaluations of claims relating to post-traumatic stress disorder.

(a) Certification and training for certain employees.—

(1) CERTIFICATION PROGRAM.—

(A) CERTIFICATION REQUIRED.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall require covered employees to successfully complete a certification program established by the Secretary. Such program shall include a periodic recertification requirement.

(B) COVERED EMPLOYEES.—For the purposes of this paragraph, a “covered employee” is an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs who is responsible for rating disabilities, evaluating claims for disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, or adjudicating disability compensation ratings.

(C) PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS.—The certification program under subparagraph (A) shall—

(i) provide specialized training on the psychological and medical issues (including comorbidities) that characterize individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder and give guidance on how to appropriately manage commonly encountered problems in evaluating and rating such disorder; and

(ii) incorporate the recommendations contained in the Best Practice Manual for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Compensation and Pension Examinations issued by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(D) REVIEW OF REQUIREMENTS.—The Secretary shall regularly review and update the requirements for successfully completing the certification program under subparagraph (A) to take into consideration medical advances and to reflect lessons learned.

(2) TRAINING PROGRAM.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall provide training to support the certification program required under paragraph (1).

(b) Audits of examinations.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall conduct audits of the examinations conducted by employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs of veterans who submit claims for disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder to ensure that such employees are taking sufficient time necessary to diagnose and accurately rate the disorder.

(c) Update of schedule for rating disabilities.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall begin updating the schedule for rating disabilities under section 1155 of title 38, United States Code. The Secretary shall begin by updating the schedule with respect to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other mental disorders. The Secretary shall complete such update not later than five years after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(d) New criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall implement the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, specific to post-traumatic stress disorder and use such criteria for the purpose of rating post-traumatic stress disorder pursuant to the schedule for rating disabilities under section 1155 of title 38, United States Code.

(e) Holistic approach required.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall implement a holistic approach for providing treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Such approach shall combine treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, compensation, and vocational assessment.

(f) Treatment of mental health records.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall require an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs who is responsible for adjudicating disability compensation ratings, in developing evidence for a claim for disability compensation to take into consideration the following:

(1) In the case of a veteran who has visited a center for the provision of readjustment counseling and related mental health services under section 1712A of title 38, United States Code, any treatment records of the veteran from that center.

(2) In the case of a veteran who has received mental health services from a mental health professional, any written opinion of that mental health professional submitted to the Department by the veteran.

(g) Consideration of certain materials.—In carrying out subsections (c), (d), and (e), the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall consider materials on post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health provided by the National Center on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Institute of Medicine.

(h) Employee.—For purposes of this section, the term “employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs” includes an employee of any entity with which the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has entered into a contract for the provision of conducting examinations or rating disabilities for purposes of determining the amount of disability compensation to be provided to a veteran under laws administered by the Secretary.

SEC. 5. Report to Congress.

Not later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a report on the implementation of this Act and the amendments made by this Act. Such report shall include any evidence of fraud or abuse relating to any provision of this Act or amendment made by this Act.