The Battle After the War: Understanding the VA PTSD Benefits Process
For many veterans, the conflict doesn't end when they return home from deployment. The trauma of war follows them - manifesting in flashbacks, panic attacks, and emotional numbness that make civilian life an alien world. When focus and sleep are constantly disrupted by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), jobs are lost, relationships are strained, and isolation can set in.
In these situations, veterans often find seeking help incredibly difficult. Admitting to PTSD symptoms means confronting the stigma much of society still attaches to this condition. Will they be seen as incompetent, unstable, or psychotic if they speak up? Will the VA take away their firearms as a result of a PTSD diagnosis? And even if they overcome the stigma, navigating the complex bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to get the disability benefits they need can be a daunting battle in itself.
While it may seem easier to just suffer silently, avoiding the pain of reliving your trauma to doctors or VA officials, you deserve to continue your life after the sacrifices you’ve made. Don’t allow yourself to remain deprived of PTSD VA benefits or treatment. We realize the battle doesn’t end when you leave the combat zone, but you don't have to fight alone. Read below for more information on understanding PTSD, overcoming stigma and navigating the VA benefits system.
PTSD develops after someone experiences a traumatic event like combat, sexual assault or a natural disaster. The disorder stems from normal reactions to extreme stress becoming disrupted, causing problems like intrusive memories, hypervigilance and emotional numbness. For veterans, PTSD usually relates to traumatic experiences during military service, such as:
Witnessing violence, death or serious injury
Being sexually assaulted or harassed during service
Surviving life-threatening attacks or accidents
Making difficult ethical choices in combat situations
Seeing dead bodies or human remains
Being injured or witnessing the serious injury of others
It's important to note that someone doesn't have to be directly injured or in danger to develop PTSD - just witnessing or learning about trauma can be enough. Furthermore, reactions to trauma vary between individuals. Not everyone exposed to combat will develop PTSD, and some may be more affected than others. Regardless, PTSD is an incredibly challenging condition to live with, and veterans with PTSD deserve all the resources necessary to treat it.
Common Symptoms of PTSD in Veterans
Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect veterans in many ways. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Re-experiencing trauma - flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories and thoughts about the traumatic event. These symptoms cause the traumatic experience to feel like it's happening again in the present day.
Avoidance - avoiding places, activities or other reminders of the trauma that trigger symptoms. Emotional numbness, feelings of detachment and loss of interest in normal activities may also occur.
Hyperarousal - being on constant alert for danger. This includes heightened startle reactions, poor concentration, irritability and trouble sleeping.
Negative thoughts - feeling alienated, having distorted feelings of guilt, shame or blame. Loss of memory about parts of the trauma is also common.
Mood problems - experiencing depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts along with PTSD. Substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism is also frequent with veterans who have PTSD.
These symptoms can have wide-ranging effects on veterans' mental health, relationships, employment and overall quality of life. Many struggle to hold down jobs or transition successfully to civilian life after military service because of PTSD. As a result, this disorder contributes to the high rates of homelessness and suicide among veterans.
The Obstacles to Obtaining VA Disability Benefits
Given the significant ways PTSD affects the lives of veterans, they deserve compensation and support. Unfortunately, the path to obtaining VA PTSD service-connected disability benefits has many obstacles, including:
1. PTSD Stigmas
There is still a persistent stigma in military culture and beyond that paints people with PTSD and other mental health conditions as weak or unstable. Some veterans fear that seeking help for PTSD will cause others to judge them as incompetent or a danger to the public. There are also concerns about employment discrimination if a PTSD diagnosis becomes public. This prevents many veterans from getting an official PTSD diagnosis or claiming benefits for it from the VA. They worry it will hurt their reputation or chances for advancement in civilian careers. These stigmas keep far too many veterans silent about their struggles.
2. Proving Service Connection
While PTSD stemming from traumatic events during military service clearly warrants disability benefits, proving the connection can be tricky. Unlike physical injuries or illnesses that are easier to document, verifying that PTSD originated from a veteran's time in service relies heavily on medical records and testimony. Inconsistencies in record-keeping, especially during wartime deployments, can make proving a service connection difficult. In addition, conditions like traumatic brain injuries, with symptoms that often coincide with those of PTSD, may further complicate matters.
3. The Challenging Claims Process
Just completing all the paperwork and medical exams required for a VA disability claim may be a challenge for veterans struggling with severe PTSD symptoms or other mental or physical disabilities. Collecting all the historical records, filling out complex claim forms correctly, attending appointments and dealing with administrative burdens can be incredibly daunting. Factor in appeal processes if claims get denied, and it's easy to see why the VA system frustrates so many veterans. VA backlogs also cause extremely long delays in claims decisions - often over a year for PTSD cases. And if claims are improperly filed or not aggressively appealed, benefits may be limited or denied entirely.
4. Accessing Quality Care
Many veterans struggle to access mental health services in a timely manner after leaving military service. This makes getting an accurate PTSD diagnosis and effective treatment - both crucial for VA claims - difficult. Health insurance coverage limitations, remote locations, physician shortages and long VA wait times are just some of the access barriers veterans can face. Without proper documentation of their PTSD therapies and response to treatment, veterans' disability claims may not convey the true severity of their condition.
Overcoming Barriers: Tips for PTSD Disability Claims
With smart preparation, targeted assistance and persistence, veterans who follow the steps below may be more likely to succeed in obtaining PTSD service-connected disability benefits:
Document everything thoroughly - keep detailed records of all mental and physical health symptoms, treatments, hospitalizations, missed work and life impacts related to PTSD. Include personal journals describing symptoms and their effects. These will help prove your disability level later.
Get officially diagnosed - make seeing a mental health professional a priority to get an official PTSD diagnosis, even if you have to travel farther or wait longer. Documenting the disorder is key.
Research and understand VA criteria - learn exactly what types of evidence and symptoms the VA looks for to confirm PTSD is service-connected. Understanding their criteria will help your case.
Link trauma to service - in your application, be specific in describing traumatic events experienced during service and how your PTSD symptoms relate directly to them.
Call in advocates - Consider getting assistance from accredited VA aid experts to improve your chances of approval. Their expertise can make navigating the system much easier.
VA PTSD Disability Compensation Rates
If the VA determines a connection between your PTSD and military service, they will assign a disability rating percentage based on how much your condition impacts normal functioning. These ratings determine the amount of monthly tax-free compensation received, and, while accuracy is not guaranteed, can be estimated in a variety of ways, including through our VA Disability Calculator.
A 100% PTSD disability rating is possible in cases where veterans are unable to work at all because of extreme, totally disabling PTSD symptoms. Key considerations in rating decisions are how symptoms like flashbacks, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and memory loss affect relationships, employment and quality of life. Higher disability ratings bring more compensation and also make veterans eligible for additional VA health, education and housing benefits.
We Fight for the Support Veterans Deserve
You should be receiving thanks and support for your service and sacrifice - not stigma and denial of your PTSD VA benefits. If the VA has denied compensation for your service connected PTSD, Wettermark Keith is here to help. Our VA accredited attorneys are dedicated to pursuing the compensation you rightfully deserve. Our attorneys understand the complexities of VA claims and will tirelessly work on your behalf to challenge unjust decisions, ensuring you get the support and acknowledgment you have earned. If your benefits have been denied, contact our team at 877-715-9300 for a free evaluation.
Wettermark Keith, with offices located throughout Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida, has an excellent reputation as one of the most accomplished personal injury firms in the country. Our reach is not only regional but includes a diverse range of practice areas, including premises liability law, personal injury cases, auto wrecks, trucking wrecks, nursing home abuse, medical malpractice, on-the-job injuries, social security disability, and veterans’ disability claims, to name just a few.
At Wettermark Keith, we believe in taking cases personally. Our purpose is to practice with care and compassion- to tell our clients’ stories and make their voices heard. We do this by building strong relationships based on constant communication and an unwavering dedication to truth and trust. You should never wonder what’s going on with your case. We will keep you in the loop and represent you as if you are family- because to us, you are.
Frequently Asked Questions
The VA will not automatically confiscate your weapons if you are diagnosed with PTSD. However, there are certain circumstances in which they may consider restricting your possession and use of firearms. It is important to note the decision to remove a veteran's firearms is never an automatic process - the VA will only take this step if, after a comprehensive mental health evaluation, they believe that the veteran is a danger to themselves or others. If you are concerned about the possibility of the VA confiscating your weapons, you should speak to an attorney who specializes in veterans' law.
A traumatic event involves exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. For veterans, this could include experiences like surviving a dangerous attack, seeing comrades injured or killed, engaging in combat, or suffering military sexual trauma. The key is that the veteran's response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Common PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive memories or nightmares, avoiding trauma reminders, heightened arousal and reactivity, anger issues, detachment, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypervigilance to threats, and problems with concentration and memory. If these symptoms persist for over a month and impair daily functioning, please seek immediate medical evaluation.
Start by talking to your primary care doctor or the VA about your symptoms. They can refer you to a mental health professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist who will clinically evaluate you for PTSD using criteria in the DSM-5 psychiatric manual.
Provide records that document the traumatic events you experienced in service and records showing symptoms and treatment for PTSD after discharge. Buddy statements from others who witnessed the trauma events or your symptoms can help too. Finally, VA exam results linking your current PTSD to military service stressors can serve as critical evidence.
There are no time limits on evidence if a valid claim is filed. However, documentation directly from your service time holds the most weight. The lack of official records is a common issue for VA benefits claims, so provide any documentation you have, plus credible supporting statements from others.
You can still file a claim, but the VA will schedule you for a compensation and pension (C&P) exam to evaluate your symptoms. Be honest about what you experience so the examiner can properly diagnose any PTSD. Consider talking to your doctor first to have a PTSD diagnosis ready to provide to the C&P examiner.
The VA provides mental health therapy, peer support groups, service dogs, emotional support animal letters, inpatient and residential treatment programs, medications, addiction treatment, TBI rehabilitation, and more. Your VA doctor or mental health team can connect you with available resources in your area.
HERE'S WHAT TO DO NEXT
If you or a loved one have been injured and think you might have a case, call us now for a free consultation.