PTSD and 38 CFR 3.304(f)

The Veterans Affairs (VA) has an interesting rule for determining whether a service member is entitled to receive PTSD benefits. This rule, 38 C.F.R. 3.304(f), allows a veteran to prove they experienced a service-connected stressor without providing proof of that stressor. This lower evidentiary standard applies when a contracted psychiatrist or VA psychologist confirms that the veteran’s claimed stressor supports the diagnosis. The rule describes PTSD as a psycho-physiological state of fear in the face of hostile military activity or terrorist activity.

Although the new rule may sound like a bad idea, it may actually be a good thing. It provides a new avenue for qualifying veterans to establish their service connection. Moreover, it does not limit the existing VA rules. Veterans who meet these requirements may still apply for PTSD benefits under the existing regulation.

The service connection requirement is based on the Cohen v. Brown decision, and requires credible medical evidence to establish a link between the service stressor and the current diagnosis. However, the evidence must also support the service connection. The APA notes that the new rule is based on a decision that was made under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires the VA to consider public comment before making a decision.