Many veterans have heard that VA Disability rules allow for an automatic 50 percent disability rating for PTSD. However, there are actually no ratings for PTSD that are considered “automatic,” because any veteran diagnosed with PTSD must meet specific rating criteria that is based on their level of social and occupational impairment as a result of their condition.
What is an Automatic 50 PTSD Rating?
There is a confusing VA disability policy that can explain why so many veterans think that the VA offers an automatic 50 percent rating for PTSD. According to VA Policy (Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1155), an automatic disability rating of 50% will be granted to veterans with PTSD, but only for those veterans who must be discharged from military service because their PTSD impacts their ability to perform their job duties effectively.
However, this rating only lasts for six months, and only applies to a small number of veterans. After six months, the VA will schedule an exam to re-evaluate the veteran’s condition. At that point, the VA will schedule an examination to determine whether or not the veteran will continue to receive a 50 percent disability rating for their PTSD.
It is possible to get a 50 percent disability rating for PTSD, but there is no automatic rating for any condition, and no automatic disability rating that applies to all veterans. Veterans with PTSD can receive a rating as low as zero percent for the condition. While PTSD is a common condition for veterans, it is not considered a presumptive condition – one that is directly caused by military service. A veteran’s disability rating for PTSD depends on their specific situation, as well as how severe their symptoms are.
What are the requirements for getting this rating?
The VA has a general rating formula for all mental health conditions, including PTSD. For PTSD, the possible disability ratings are:
- 0 percent: the veteran has been diagnosed with PTSD, but their symptoms are not severe enough to impact their professional or social functioning, or to require the continuous use of medication
- 10 percent: the veteran may experience mild symptoms of PTSD, which may lead to problems at work, at home, or in social situations during times of severe stress. Symptoms are controlled by continuous medication
- 30 percent: the veteran may experience impairment at work or in social situations and may experience occasional decreases in productivity or an inability to perform their job duties because of their PTSD symptoms. These symptoms can include depression, anxiety, sleep impairment, memory loss, or panic attacks
- 50 percent: the veteran may experience a significant reduction in their productivity at work due to panic attacks, having difficulty with speech, experiencing memory problems, or difficulty understanding complex commands. Veterans may also struggle to maintain or develop work or social relationships
- 70 percent: the veteran may experience deficiencies in most social and professional areas, including their relationships with friends or family, the ability to perform their job duties, and may experience problems with their thinking, mood, or judgement. They may also experience suicidal ideations, obsessive thoughts or rituals, depression, lack of impulse control, or difficulty adapting to stressful situations
- 100 percent: the veteran is unable to function at work or in social settings as a result of their symptoms
Who is eligible to receive a disability rating for PTSD?
There is a VA policy (Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1155) for Mental Disorders Due to Traumatic Stress, that states:
- If a service member develops a mental disorder as a result of a highly stressful event, and that disorder is severe enough to lead to the veteran being released from active duty, the service member will receive at least a 50 percent disability rating
Additionally, there are other specific criteria that must be met in order to receive at least a 50 percent disability rating for PTSD. These include:
- Social and occupational impairment
- Reduced productivity
- Panic attacks more than once a week
- Impaired short-term and long-term memory
- Forgetting to complete tasks and difficulty understanding commands
- Impaired abstract thinking and impaired judgement
- Negative changes in mood
- Difficulty maintaining and establishing personal and professional relationships
In order for a veteran’s PTSD claim to be recognized by the VA as service-connected, the diagnosis must be given by a physician or other medical professional who is qualified to perform a PTSD-specific Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination. In order to be able to meet the VA’s criteria for diagnosing PTSD, medical professionals must:
- Have doctoral-level training in psychopathology, clinical interviewing methods, and diagnostic methods
- Have a great deal of experience in a clinical setting with diagnosing and treating veterans who have PTSD
These can include board-certified psychiatrists, licensed psychologists, psychiatric residents, and psychology interns under the supervision of an attending psychologist or psychiatrist.
While the symptoms of PTSD can begin immediately after a traumatic event, for the purposes of VA disability claims, a full diagnosis cannot be made until at least six months after the traumatic event occurred.
VA Disability Ratings for PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be the result of occurrences such as combat, personal trauma, or other extremely stressful events, and can have negative impacts on a veteran’s personal and professional life. In 2018, there were nearly 65,000 new VA disability claims for PTSD, and over 800,000 veterans receive compensation from the VA due to some level of PTSD symptoms.
In order to be assigned a disability rating from the VA for PTSD, a veteran must be able to show that their condition is connected to an event that occurred during their military service. The disability rating will be assigned based on the severity of the condition, as well as the amount of earnings the veteran has lost as a result of their condition.
In order for a veteran to receive VA disability benefits for PTSD, all of the following criteria must be met:
- The stressor or traumatic event must have happened during the veteran’s military service
- The veteran has been diagnosed with PTSD by a medical professional who is qualified to make a PTSD diagnosis
- The PTSD symptoms that the veteran experiences makes them unable to function as well as they were able to prior to the traumatic event
Heather Maxey works at a non-profit that addresses military ineligibility. She is an Army spouse, and met her husband while working as a Health Educator at Fort Bragg.
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