Military members who experience trauma may develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is eligible for VA compensation for service-connected or service-aggravated conditions.
But for some, the process of establishing a VA rating for PTSD is a mystery. Understanding how the VA views and rates this condition goes a long way toward helping those who suffer from PTSD file their claims and document their condition properly for the purpose of getting a VA disability rating for the condition where applicable.
What You Should Know About PTSD As A VA-Rated Disability
The VA needs veterans who apply for PTSD compensation to establish a service connection to the trauma. Any medical documentation you have including information from private caregivers, counselors, civilian mental health professionals, and other supporting evidence will be crucial to establishing your claim,
If you have the ability to have a military doctor or counselor evaluate you prior to retirement or separation do so as soon as possible and continue to follow up with your appointments and treatments until you are discharged.
Those who do not have a military medical record that includes evaluation of or treatment for mental health disorders will have a more difficult time proving a service connection in some cases but it is not impossible–you may need to enlist the help of a Veterans Service Organization or legal firm experienced with veteran compensation issues in this area.
But much depends on circumstances, the amount of documentation you have, and other variables. Always assume that you should accomplish as much in your military medical records as possible prior to discharge for best results.
VA Disability Ratings Approach For PTSD
The VA can, and does, issue disability ratings for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These disability ratings range from Zero to 100% depending on the nature, severity, and persistence of the symptoms.
We’ll cover the VA rating criteria below. But servicemembers should know that establishing a case for PTSD ideally should start as early as possible. If you are still serving, being evaluated and diagnosed with PTSD or other mental health issues related to your trauma is a very important step.
One important fact to remember – PTSD, anxiety disorders and other mental health issues continue to be directly or indirectly stigmatized in certain parts of our society and it can be challenging to seek help or a diagnosis.
To be treated for your condition and get the compensation you are due, it is necessary to overcome any feelings you may have of being marginalized, of being a “lesser person” or other negative connotations associated with having a mental health issue.
The fact is, PTSD is far more widespread than many think and American culture has a long way to go in properly understanding these conditions and the people who suffer from them. Don’t let stigma or negative perceptions about mental health issues stop you from getting the care and compensation you deserve.
How The VA Views PTSD
The VA lists PTSD as a “mental disorder due to traumatic stress”. The VA official site provides this information about PTSD and the VA’s approach to it. It says in part that when a mental issue develops “in service as a result of a highly stressful event is severe enough to bring about the veteran’s release from active military service,” the VA will assign an initial rating of 50% disability to the condition.
The VA must schedule an exam within six months of the veteran’s discharge from military service. This evaluation is meant to determine whether the veteran should remain classified as 50% for the condition or if a different rating is required.
When rating PTSD and other mental health issues, it requires professionals to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as it’s guide. The VA official site reminds, “Rating agencies must be thoroughly familiar with this manual” to properly complete the evaluation.
Factors In A VA PTSD Disability Rating
Causes of PTSD are many and varied. The Department of Veterans Affairs will need to know if you have experienced ANY of the following during your military service. This list is not a comprehensive one–there are too many variables and causes of PTSD to make a complete listing of all factors that may be relevant, but in general here are some of the most common factors:
- Life-threatening situations including threat of or fear of death
- Serious injury
- Threatened serious injury
- Sexual violence
- Threatened sexual violence
Remember, you don’t have to directly experience a traumatic event to be affected by it–if you witness a traumatic event you may experience symptoms of PTSD, too.
Some wrongly assume that if they have not experienced trauma in combat that it “doesn’t count.” However, any of the following can result in your experiencing symptoms of PTSD–how long they last and the level of impairment are variables you will have to consider as you get treatment and evaluation. You can experience PTSD symptoms in any of the following situations combat-related or not:
- Car accidents
- Suicides involving someone you know
- Military training mishaps
- Sexual assault or attempted sexual assault
- Witnessing any of the above
The VA Rating Schedule For PTSD
The first question many ask about VA disability ratings is what it takes to be rated as 100% disabled in any given area. Some VA ratings don’t allow a 100% disability rating regardless of severity (tinnitus is a good example) while others permit a range of ratings from zero to 100% PTSD is one of those conditions.
In order to be VA-rated at 100% disability for PTSD, the following must apply as per VA instructions to it’s evaluators:
VA PTSD 100% Disability Rating Criteria: Total occupational and social impairment because of symptoms including:
- Gross impairment in thought processes or communication
- Persistent delusions or hallucinations
- Grossly inappropriate behavior
- Persistent danger of hurting self or others
- Intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene)
- Disorientation to time or place
- Memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name
Space doesn’t permit us to list each and every level of rating but there are levels at 70%, 50%, 30%, and 10%. There is also a zero percent rating. The 100% PTSD rating obviously involves a severity of symptoms not found at the other levels. For example, the 50% PTSD rating includes the following criteria for approval:
VA PTSD 50% Disability Rating Criteria: Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to:
- Flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech
- Panic attacks more than once a week
- Difficulty in understanding complex commands
- Impairment of short- and long-term memory
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired abstract thinking
- Disturbances of motivation and mood
- Difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships
One of the most common VA ratings for PTSD according to some sources is 30% disability, which includes the following:
VA PTSD 30% Disability Rating Criteria: Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal), due:
- Depressed mood
- Panic attacks (weekly or less often)
- Chronic sleep impairment
- Mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events)
The VA Zero Percent Disability Rating For PTSD
The zero percent rating is awarded in cases where there has been a formal diagnosis of the condition but symptoms are “not severe enough either to interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication”.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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