New Report Examines VA’s Combat Stress Care of Women Vets

On January 9, 2011, VA’s Office of Inspector General released a report studying women veterans suffering from combat stress.  Among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer females than males were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, while a higher percentage were diagnosed with depression, according to the report requested by Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

Although women are not assigned to units primarily engaged in direct combat, many female veterans suffer from the same combat stress as their male counterparts.  Through a number of constituents, Warner heard that the Department of Veterans Affairs was not fully taking care of those women, so he called for a study of the growing number of women who suffer from combat stress.

The study reviewed information on approximately 250,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the same number of veteran who served elsewhere.  Among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 12 percent of active female veterans and about 16 percent of reserve unit female veterans were diagnosed with PTSD, compared to about 17 percent of male veterans.  Although VA denied female PTSD claims more often those of men, men were denied claims for other mental health conditions more often than women.

The report found no gender bias in VA’s denial of any PTSD claims.  Additionally, the report specifically found that VA’s decisions were consistent with the medical evidence and current VA policies and procedures.

Recent changes to VA regulations regarding PTSD may allow more veterans, both men and women, to qualify for compensation benefits.  Since the Defense Department excludes women from assignments to units whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat, men are more likely than women to receive combat-related decorations. Under the new PTSD regulations, effective since July 2010, VA assumes that all veterans assigned to a combat zone experienced the “stressor” events that can lead to PTSD.

The entire report is available at: http://www4.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2011/VAOIG-10-01640-45.pdf

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