According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health problem suffered by troops returning from combat. If you are a veteran of the United States Armed Forces, and have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of your service, you are likely eligible for veterans disability benefits.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is the development of symptoms following an extreme traumatic event involving personal exposure to actual or threatened death or serious injury, or witnessing an event involving death or injury of another person, or learning of the death or serious injury of a family member or close associate. The person suffering from PTSD experiences intense fear, helplessness or horror, and may re-experience the traumatic event. He or she may also try to avoid stimuli associated with the trauma, and may experience numbing of general responsiveness or persistent symptoms of increased stimulation. The symptoms occur for longer than one month and cause significant disruption in social or work-related functioning.
Events that trigger PSTD are referred to by the VA regulations as “stressors” and may include natural disasters, accidents, and deliberate man-made events or disasters, including war.
Who Qualifies for Veterans Disability Benefits?
In order to qualify for any type of veterans disability benefits, certain criteria must be met. First, the veteran must currently have a medically diagnosed disease or disability, which may include a mental illness or mental disorder such as PTSD. Second, there must have been a triggering incident during active military, naval, or air service. Third, the veteran must prove a causal connection between the military service and the current injury or disease, otherwise known as showing that the disability is “service-connected.”
How to Obtain Disability Benefits
In order to obtain disability benefits, a veteran with PTSD must first undergo an evaluation at a VA medical facility. A psychiatrist at the VA medical center must provide a diagnosis of PTSD in order for a veteran to be able to obtain disability benefits for PTSD.
The veteran must also apply for disability benefits, which can be done online at the Veterans Online Application website (VONAPP) at www.ebenefits.va.gov. Alternatively, the veteran can fill out VA Form 21-526.
The veteran must also supply certain documentation, including a DD214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or other separation papers for all periods of service, and copies of medical records including the mental health evaluation done at the VA medical facility. Additionally, the VA will accept Form 21-4138 Statement in Support of a Claim, which may include a letter from the veteran detailing the events that triggered the PTSD or the symptoms suffered by the veteran, as well as letters from friends or family members describing the impact of PTSD on the veteran.
Streamlined PTSD Regulations
New regulations that went into affect on July 13, 2010 streamlined the process for veterans suffering from PTSD to obtain benefits, and easier for non-combat veterans to prove that their PTSD is a result of a stressor related to “fear of hostile military or terrorist activity,” if the stressor is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of their service. The regulations require that:
- the veteran have a PTSD diagnosis
- a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirm that the stressor was enough to cause the PTSD
- the veteran's symptoms are related to the occurrence of the stressor, and
- the stressor is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the veteran’s service and the record provides no clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
Prior to this new regulation, veterans were required to provide supporting evidence and documentation verifying the occurrence of the stressor, a requirement which was time consuming and often difficult to fulfill.
How does the VA determine a disability rating for veterans suffering from PTSD?
Compensation amounts for disabled veterans are determined based on a rating system. Each disability's severity is measured in 10% increments, ranging from 10% to 100% disabled. A higher percentage rating given to a veteran's disability results in a higher level of compensation received by the veteran.
In order to determine what percentage disability rating to assign to a veteran with PTSD, the rating agency considers the frequency, severity, and duration of psychiatric symptoms, the length of remissions, and the veteran's capacity for adjustment during periods of remission. The rating agency also takes into account the degree of occupational and social impairment suffered by the veteran (although the rating may not be solely based on social impairment.)
The statute governing veterans disability benefits also identifies specific symptoms and effects of mental disorders (specifically including PTSD) and assigns a disability rating based on these symptoms. For example, a veteran experiencing total occupational and social impairment, gross impairment of thought processes and communication, persistent delusions or hallucinations, persistent danger of hurting himself or others, intermittent inability to perform the activities of daily living, memory loss, or disorientation about time and place would be assigned a 100% disability rating. On the other hand, a veteran with PTSD experiencing only mild or transient symptoms that decrease work efficiency and the ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or whose symptoms are controlled by continuous medication, would be assigned a disability rating of 10%.
If the PTSD results from a highly stressful event that requires a serviceman be released from military duty early, then the VA must assign a rating of no less than 50% disabled, and another evaluation must be done within six months of the veteran's discharge to determine if the rating should be changed.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a free, anonymous screening for PTSD on its website at https://www.myhealth.va.gov/.