You may be seeking to qualify for VA disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) connected to your military service.
You’re not alone. PTSD is the most common psychiatric disorder for which Veterans seek and receive compensation, according to The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Journal of Traumatic Stress provides some key statistics. Veterans face PTSD lifetime prevalence rates as follows:
- 30% for Vietnam Veterans
- 12% for Gulf War Veterans
- 14% for U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan-era Veterans
When considering there are more than 17 million Veterans living in the United States, we see that the numbers suffering PTSD are clearly quite high.
The question is how best to understand the VA’s process for qualifying Veterans with PTSD for disability benefits. By understanding this process, you will be able to better prepare your case to give you the best possible outcome.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- PTSD and VA Disability
- Qualifying for VA Disability Benefits
- Appealing a Decision
- When Veterans Should Consult a Disability Attorney
PTSD and VA Disability
PTSD is defined as a mental health disability that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as combat, sexual or physical assault, or a disaster.
Some symptoms can include:
- Recurring, distressing memories
- Nightmares and trouble sleeping
- Severe reaction to triggers associated with the traumatic event
- Negative mood changes
- Avoidance of thoughts and triggers related to the traumatic event
- Being easily startled, quick to anger, irritable, or other changes in emotional reactions
- Thoughts of suicide
- Severity that may vary or worsen over time and last longer than a few months
If you suffer from PTSD and qualify for VA disability, you can receive health care benefits, cash benefits, and specialized PTSD treatments. Your level of benefits will depend on your disability rating (more below), which for PTSD can range anywhere from 0% to 100%.
The VA defines PTSD using the following criteria:
The stressor, or traumatic event, must have happened during your service, and you can’t function as well as you once could because of your symptoms, and a doctor has diagnosed you with PTSD.
The VA defines a “traumatic event” as follows:
You suffered a serious injury, personal or sexual trauma, or sexual violation, or you were threatened with injury, sexual assault, or death.
When you file for VA disability for PTSD, there are some additional forms you must file:
- A Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Secondary to Personal Assault
If you are in crisis …
If you are experiencing a crisis and need to talk to someone right away, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or 1-800-799-4889 for the deaf and hard of hearing.
You may also text 838255.
You can also chat securely online.
The VA offers many treatment options for Veterans suffering PTSD, including 1-on-1 mental health assessment and testing, group therapy, medication, outpatient care by PTSD specialists, and more.
Qualifying for VA Disability Benefits
Service-connected disabilities are those which you can medically prove were caused or worsened by your military service.
There are three main types of service-connected disability claim.
In-Service Disability Claim: This means you got sick or injured while serving in the military and can link your current condition to the illness or injury.
Pre-Service Disability Claim: You had an illness or injury before you joined the military, and serving worsened the condition.
Post-Service Disability Claim: You have a disability that didn’t appear until after you ended your active-duty service, but can be medically proven to be connected to your service.
You may also file a claim for:
- increased compensation for a previously approved disability
- additional benefits
- a secondary disability medically connected to an existing disability
- additional evidence for a previously denied claim (a supplemental claim)
Proving Your Claim
You must be able to use medical evidence to prove a disability or worsening of an existing condition is service-connected.
Keep good records, including service records, medical records, and doctor’s opinions related to your disability claim.
Obtain a Nexus Letter from a medical provider—this letter summarizes how your injury or condition relates to your time in service.
Fill out a Disability Benefits Questionnaire. A DBQ for your specific illness or condition can help the VA expedite your claim.
Determine if you need a C&P Exam. Depending on the medical evidence and the strength of your Nexus letter, you may or may not need a compensation and pension exam.
Your Disability Rating
The VA will rate the severity of your disability on a scale of 0% to 100%.
For instance, if the VA determines based on medical evidence that the severity of your disability is less than 30%, you may receive benefits, but your dependents will not, unless at a later time your disability worsens beyond 30% severity.
You will receive a total disability rating based on all your service-related disabilities combined.
Appealing a Decision
Nearly a third of all who apply will be initially denied benefits. Many more may receive an unfavorable disability rating.
There are three levels of appeal for unfavorable disability claim decisions:
- Supplemental claim
- Higher-level review
- Board appeal
Speak with your attorney about how to appeal your disability claim with the VA.
When Veterans Should Consult a Disability Attorney
An attorney can help you file your claim. They will also guide you through multiple claims or appeals, or appealing for a higher disability rating.
You may have also missed deadlines, had a change in your condition or the severity of your condition, or feel that a denial was due to an error during the review process. A qualified lawyer can help to resolve all these and file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD).
In specific instances, you may also qualify for Social Security Disability, and an attorney can help you understand how to proceed.
Affleck & Gordon’s experienced disability attorneys offer a free case evaluation to learn more about your VA disability rights.
If your VA Disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for decades. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-7165.