Veterans Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
ELEMENTS OF A CLAIM FOR POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
In July 2010, VA finalized regulations that liberalize the evidentiary standard for veterans in a war zone claiming service connection for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This regulation will now simplify and streamline the processing of PTSD claims. A veteran will now be able to establish the occurrence of an in-service stressor through his or her own lay testimony, if:
1) the veteran is diagnosed with PTSD,
2) a VA psychiatrist or psychologist, or a psychiatrist or psychologist with whom VA has contracted, confirms that the claimed stressor is adequate to support a PTSD diagnosis,
3) the veteran’s symptoms are related to the stressor, and
4) the claimed 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.
The hope by this change in regulation is that the claims process will be faster without requiring the VA to search for records and verify stressor accounts, and that a veteran will not be penalized for poor record keeping by the Department of Defense (DoD) regarding stressful incidents.
When a claim for PTSD is based on a non-combat stressor, a veteran’s lay statements alone are insufficient proof of a stressor. To support your claim, seek statements from former military personnel who may have witnessed the event(s) or at least your response to the event(s). Statements from family members about changes in your behavior while you were in the service or after you were discharged are also helpful. Military records demonstrating a change in your duty performance and any information regarding changes in duty assignment may be of assistance as well, showing decreased functioning as a result of the non-combat stressor. Write to the VA and ask them to search for records that are not routinely requested such as unit morning reports, your personnel records, or military police records if the incident involved a crime or led to court-martial proceedings. Keep in mind also that military mental health records are often separated out from general medical records and must be specifically requested.
Recent statistics indicate that an estimated 300,000 current or former combat troops have PTSD or depression. 1 Mental health problems in veterans are second only to orthopedic problems and are increasing at a faster rate than in the past.2 In response to this, the DoD has agreed to spend $300 million on research on PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.3 Unfortunately, the studies to be funded by the DoD will not be completed for some time. In the meantime, it is important to seek treatment for symptoms associated with PTSD.
If you have already been granted service connection for PTSD and you are in disagreement with the rating assigned, you may seek an increased rating. VA regulations provide for the varying evaluations for mental disorders such as PTSD. Your ability to work and interact with others is central to a proper evaluation of the disabling nature of your condition. If you are employed but can show that your employment is in a sheltered environment (work from home, work alone on a night shift, work for family, etc.) you may still be able to establish the criteria necessary for a higher rating.
1. “DoD to shell out $300M to study PTSD, TBI,” by Gregg Zoroya, USA Today, as posted on Air Force News Wednesday August 6, 2008. http://www.airfocetimes.com/news/2008/08/gns_tbi_080408/.
2. “PTSD reports up 20,000 in a year” by Gregg Zoroya, USA Today, as posted on Air Force News Friday October 19, 2007. http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2007/10/gns_ptsd_071019/.
3. “DoD to shell out $300M to study PTSD, TBI,” by Gregg Zoroya, USA Today, as posted on Air Force News Wednesday August 6, 2008. http://www.airfocetimes.com/news/2008/08/gns_tbi_080408/.