Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”)
PTSD occurs after someone has been through or witnessed a dangerous or fearful event. The victim of the event continues to feel stress, anxiety, or fear long after the actual danger is over. PTSD can manifest a variety of symptoms, any of which have the potential to cause the veteran to be totally socially and occupationally impaired. PTSD symptoms can begin appearing soon after the traumatic event, or they can appear years after the event. In either case, the effects of even mild PTSD symptoms can be severe, both on the veteran and the people close to him or her.
Many veterans coming back from a combat deployment are often plagued with PTSD symptoms. By some estimates, one in five vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience symptoms of PTSD or major depression. Sadly, many of these service members don’t seek treatment because they fear it will harm their careers. Untreated, PTSD and depression can lead to cascading problems, such as drug use, marital problems, unemployment and even suicide.
How do you know if you have PTSD?
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the event(s), sleeplessness, loss of interest, or feeling numb, anger, and irritability, frequent emotional outbursts, feelings of isolation, feelings of guilt, feelings of hopelessness, easily startled or spooked, suicidal thoughts, avoidance of people (even family members), loss of memory, inability to concentrate, excessive drinking to ease anxiety or stress. Sometimes these symptoms show up months or years after the stressful event(s). They may also come and go. If these problems don’t go away or are getting worse—or you feel like they are disrupting your daily life—you may have PTSD.
Three elements are required for a veteran to qualify for disability benefits for a PTSD claim. First, the claimant must have a present diagnosis of PTSD made by a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed social worker or other mental health care practitioner. If no treatment has been sought, we recommend that the veteran immediately seek a diagnosis by a medical professional and treatment at a VA or other care facility.
Second, the veteran’s PTSD must have been caused by an in-service “stressor(s).” A stressor is a traumatic event or incident that occurred in service which has a disturbing or distressing effect on the veteran. Examples of stressors are: engaging in combat, surviving an IED or other injury/attack, or witnessing a friend die in combat. The evidence necessary to prove an in-service stressor depends upon whether the veteran engaged in combat. If the claimant can establish that he or she engaged in combat, the veteran’s lay statement about the stressor may be accepted as sufficient proof that the stressor occurred. If the claimant is not a combat veteran, he or she must submit independent evidence corroborating or verifying the statement about the occurrence of the stressor. Military records are the best way to corroborate in-service stressors. Proof of a stressor may come in the form of a “buddy statement,” a written statement from a fellow soldier who also witnessed the traumatic event.
The third requirement for a PTSD claim is the nexus requirement. Just like all claims, the PTSD claim must contain proof of a causal link between the in-service incident and the present disability. That means that a medical expert, (here, a medical health practitioner) must opine that the in-service stressor caused the claimant’s present PTSD.
Veterans who are struggling with PTSD symptoms should be aware of the available VA resources to get help. The following are some of the available facilities:
- VA Medical Centers;
- VA Outpatient Clinics;
- Vet Centers;
- VA PTSD Programs;
- VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators; and
- VA Chaplains.
Additional Mental Disorders
Other mental disorders can be caused by in service stressors or be aggravated by the veteran’s time in service. Common conditions include major depressive disorder, chronic adjustment disorder, and social anxiety among others. Certain mental conditions are not ratable but may be included as side effects of ratable conditions. For example, a veteran with PTSD may become an alcoholic. The PTSD is ratable and may have a higher rating because of the alcohol abuse but the alcoholism is not ratable on its own.
How PTSD and Mental Disorders are Rated
The VA evaluates ratings for PTSD and other mental disorders based on the symptoms and side effects they cause. Key terms used for describing these conditions include:
- Social Impairment;
- Occupational Impairment;
- Psychosis/Psychotic behavior;
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior; and
- Panic Attacks.
The term “probative value is also important in rating these conditions because, if there are two conflicting reports of the condition, the one which has the most complete data and done by the most qualified person in that field will be weighed more heavily.
Ratings can be 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100% and are based on the severity of the symptoms and level of social impairment they cause.