Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health problem experienced by Veterans who have encountered combat or combat training.
If you struggle with the symptoms of PTSD the last thing you want to deal with is extra hurdles for the help you want or need.
Here are some things you should know about PTSD, filing a PTSD VA claim.
Understanding PTSD like the VA Understands It
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a term that gets thrown around a lot. If two people go through a terrible weekend at a work conference, they might refer to having PTSD in a tongue in cheek way. However, it’s a pretty serious anxiety disorder. That being said, the trauma that leads one person to exhibit chronic symptoms vs the trauma that another person may have experienced to exhibit a whole other set of symptoms (or none at all) is completely subjective. Fact is, no two people are going to react to a traumatic event the same way.
PTSD usually correlates with an intense situation when someone (self or others) has been either exposed to or has incurred a risk of injury or death of someone close to them. Perhaps the biggest paradox surrounding PTSD is that symptoms can occur days, months, or decades after the event took place.
PTSD and VA Service-Connected Disability Compensation, Broken Down
Before we cover how PTSD and Disability are related for VA purposes, we should cover PTSD can occur when someone is put in a situation that elicits fear of or actual death, serious injury, witnessing an event of death, or learning of the death or serious injury of a family member or friend.
For you to receive disability benefits for PTSD, you must Establish a direct service connection if the PTSD is combat related. To establish a direct service connection, you no longer need to prove the traumatic event that caused PTSD occurred. This applies to both combat veterans and any veterans that experienced hostile or terrorist activity.
You Need to Make a Good PTSD Disability Claim with the VA
If your anxiety, depression, lack of sleeping, or any other potential symptoms of PTSD are related (even remotely) to your military service your first step needs to be filing with the VA via their special application for people suffering PTSD.
To qualify for VA compensation and related medical benefits, you need to submit your claim to the Compensation and Pension Service.
You can do this online, via the VA’s own site, at www.ebenefits.va.gov.
Even if you’re not computer savvy, this a fairly simple application that will make a huge difference in your life and treatment if and when you’re successful.
PTSD Disability Requirements for Service Connection
The requirements to establish a direct service connection to PTSD And Disability:
- Current diagnosis of PTSD
- This diagnosis must be done by a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed social worker, or another behavioral health practitioner.
- The PTSD diagnosis must meet specific criteria and the doctor must provide a report on why it is believed you have PTSD and how your symptoms fit the specific criteria.
- You may file for service connection for PTSD or a related behavioral health condition, but you will need a diagnosis before your service-connected decision is granted.
- In-service stressor
- You must show that an event or series of events caused (or made worse) your PTSD during your service. You do not need to have been in combat, but there is a different requirement for combat vs non-combat events.
- Records that may prove combat experience include your DD214, medals and/or awards received, and unit records showing the dates and locations of unit assignments.
- For non-combat events, you may be able to include statements from fellow veterans that served with you and statements from friends and family that knew you before and after your service and can attest to your changes.
- Any proof you may have of the stressor event or conditions occurring. This clear event stressor is not strictly required but makes for a less challenging fight with the VA.
- A Department of Veterans Affairs or VA contracted psychologist/psychiatrist’s opinion the stressor was sufficient to cause PTSD. If you are near a Vet Center they can help with this. They have licensed social workers that can document the connection between your diagnosis and the stressor.
- Veterans who have experienced rape or sexual harassment that caused PTSD are also eligible for disability benefits, but they do have to prove that the sexual trauma occurred.
- Other events can happen that can cause PTSD in veterans before they even join the military. In that case, to receive service-connected PTSD and Disability benefits, they must prove that their service has made the disorder worse.
Next Steps In Your VA PTSD Claim
You need to get your official PTSD diagnosis to move on in the process. You will have to relate the stress to a specific traumatic event, which will be documented by your psychiatrist in a VA C&P exam. You will then have to show that your PTSD is related to (or made worse by) an experience in your military record.
Assuming you are successful in your claim, you will be given a certain “percentage” of disability, rating just how debilitating your symptoms are. The rating should take into account how often you experience challenges related to your PTSD, what triggers your challenges, and how long they last.
Service Connected Disability benefits are measured in severity increments of 10%; from 10% to 100%. For example, a veteran who has mild PTSD or if the symptoms are infrequent and are controlled well with medication, the disability rating might be 10%. The VA uses the disability rating to determine what benefits you are eligible for and how much compensation you may receive. Benefits can include health care, compensation, and treatment for your PTSD.
If your ability to work and to function without assistance turns out to be serious enough, you can file for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits, an increase in ratings, and of course – Social Security Disability benefits. (Yes, you can claim SSDI & VA disability at the same time!)
A PTSD Disability Should not Stop You from Enjoying Life or From Getting Compensation from the VA
Experiencing PTSD does not mean you are unable able to do everything you want to with the rest of your life. With support, and fair compensation, you can make progress on addressing your challenges and not be held back by the inability to afford to do the things that will help you get there (therapy, restructuring your relationship with employment, family, etc).
If your military service is what caused that problem, America is indebted to you and should help you to manage your challenges through fair compensation and adequate treatment.