Traumatised soldiers wrongfully denied compensation

June 4th, 2013

This article is more than 10 years old.

Six-month limit for reporting post traumatic stress syndrome may exclude some veterans from being able to seek assistance

Occupational health officials have wrongfully denied compensation to soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) for the past eight years.

Referring to World Health Organisation protocol (WHO), Arbejdsskadestyrelsen has demanded that soldiers document their PTSD symptoms no later than six months after their return from the war zone.

But those demands are incorrect, because the WHO guidelines also indicate that PTSD symptoms can be delayed and take hold after six months.

“It may not be an outright lie, but it is definitely odd that Arbejdsskadestyrelsen has so stubbornly clung to the six-month limit,” MP Jørgen Arbo-Bæhr, Enhedslisten’s labour market spokesperson, told Avisen.dk

The six-month limit has long been a matter of debate, because it prevents soldiers from acquiring compensation if the psychological effects of being in combat don’t appear until later.

Arbejdsskadestyrelsen and the employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne), have repeatedly maintained they are simply following WHO guidelines. WHO officials, however, said the organisations guidelines are not as rigid as the Danish interpretation implies.

In its ‘Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders: Clinical Descriptions and Diagnostic Guidelines’, WHO writes that PTSD “should not generally be diagnosed unless there is evidence that it arose within six months of a traumatic event of exceptional severity. A ‘probable’ diagnosis might still be possible if the delay between the event and the onset was longer than six months, provided that the clinical manifestations are typical and no alternative identification of the disorder (e.g. as an anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder or depressive episode) is plausible”.

On the other hand, Arbejdsskadestyrelsen notes that “The diagnosis of PTSD can, in principal, not be set unless the injured individual completely fulfils the diagnostic demands of the illness, including the demand of exposure to exceptionally threatening or catastrophe-like strain no later than six months prior to the symptoms appearing.”

Mark Humphrey van Ommeren, a scientist from WHO’s department of psychological health, argued that delayed symptoms far from rules out a PTSD diagnosis.

“A diagnosis can still be possible if the delay between the traumatic occurrence and the symptoms appearing has been longer than six months, providing that the clinical signs are typical and there is no alternative psychological disorder is plausible,” van Ommeren told Avisen.dk

A new report from Soldaterlegatet, which hands out grants to physically and psychologically injured soldiers and their families, points to the same issue and the fund has hired a law firm to look into 345 work-related injury cases.

“Arbejdsskadestyrelsen is misinterpreting the WHO’s guidelines. Their claim that symptoms must appear within six months after returning home is incorrect and will likely not hold up in a court of law,” the Soldaterlegatet report found.

Frederiksen said the Employment Ministry was working on a report that was expected to be finished in the near future. Parliament recently instructed the government to eliminate the six-month limit and ordered Arbejdsskadestyrelsen to reopen the rejected cases.


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