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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

Thank you all for coming here today.  The purpose of this hearing is to examine: (1) how the VA addresses Personality Disorders; and (2) the recent report by the Institute of Medicine on VA PTSD claims.

Let me start by saying that this is a real issue.  Estimates are that about one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans may show signs of PTSD.  A national report last year said that the number of veterans seeking help at VA walk-in Vet Centers for PTSD rose from 4,500 to over 9,000 between October 2005 and June 2006.  

Mental health issues, however, are not confined to OIF/OEF veterans.  There are many older veterans who have yet to be properly treated or diagnosed.  Until recognized in the early 1980s, PTSD was considered a temporary “war neurosis.”  For servicemembers who didn’t recover, the default diagnosis was to search for an underlying Personality Disorder.

My concern is that this country is regressing and again ignoring legitimate claims of PTSD in favor of the time and money saving diagnosis of Personality Disorder.  For instance, in the last six years, the military has discharged over 22,500 service members due to Personality Disorders.  Unfortunately, this committee does not have oversight responsibility for DoD; however, I have asked them to be present today because they can provide insight on the initial mental health treatment of our veterans.

Providing veterans with the correct medical diagnosis is key for a variety of reasons ranging from receiving proper treatment to eligibility for military and veterans benefits. 

Once a service member is diagnosed with a Personality Disorder, he or she has a much more difficult time receiving benefits and treatment at the VA.  I want to know how the VA deals with veterans who have been labeled with a Personality Disorder. 

Does the burden fall on the veteran to prove that he or she doesn’t have a Personality Disorder?  Will such a diagnosis prevent the veteran from receiving health care once initial VA coverage ends?  What extra barriers does this veteran face?

I am also very interested in learning more about the May 7th PTSD Compensation and Military Service Report, which addressed the current status of the VA’s PTSD claims process.  The Report was completed by a committee of preeminent professionals in the mental health field and was paid for by the VA.  

The Report offered numerous recommendations on how the VA could improve its PTSD claims process.  I want to hear the VA’s opinion on whether they can implement the many suggestions offered in the Report.  Or, is this Report going to wind up like so many others before it--on a dusty shelf somewhere in the vast VA?

In closing, I want to say that our servicemembers who come back to the states from serving in OIF/OEF should not be forced to fight a second battle to receive a proper medical diagnosis and the benefits and medical care they deserve.  One battle in a lifetime is more than enough.