In recent years, the impact of trauma on our lives has become a hot topic. More than ever before, experts and laypeople alike have recognized how conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect a person. This is particularly true for anyone who has served in the military.
PTSD is incredibly common in veterans. According to the Veterans Administration (VA), approximately 30% of all Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetimes. Gulf War veterans suffer from PTSD at a rate of 12%, while between 11 and 20% of veterans who served in Iraq are diagnosed with PTSD each year.
If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the VA. Read on to learn more about how the VA rates PTSD from an experienced Cherry Hill veterans disability benefits attorney.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health condition that develops after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms of PTSD often appear within one month of a traumatic event, but may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms can cause significant issues in social and work situations, as well as in relationships.
There are 4 primary types of PTSD symptoms: (1) intrusive memories; (2) avoidance; (3) negative changes in thinking and mood; and (4) changes in physical and emotional reactions. Each group includes various symptoms, which can vary over time or from person to person:
- Intrusive memories
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Flashbacks (reliving the traumatic event)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that is reminiscent of the traumatic event (triggers)
- Avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
- Negative changes in thinking and mood
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about self and others
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Trouble sleeping
- Self-destructive behavior
- Always being on guard for danger
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
PTSD can develop after going through, seeing or learning about an event involving death (actual or threatened), serious injury, or sexual violence. Exposure to combat is one of the most common events leading to the development of PTSD.
PTSD is diagnosed by performing a physical exam to check for medical problems, and then a psychological evaluation. The criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-5) is then used to make an official diagnosis. A PTSD diagnosis requires exposure to an event that involved the actual or possible threat of death, violence, or serious injury.
Treatment for PTSD includes a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Common forms of therapy used include cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Medication, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and drugs that suppress nightmares (prazosin) may also help.
The VA Rating System
The Rating Schedule provides increased benefits as a veteran’s level of disability increases; this disability level is expressed as a percentage, from 0 to 100%. A veteran who is considered “totally disabled” will be paid benefits at the 100% level. Some veterans who have very serious injuries may receive extra compensation.
The Ratings Schedule groups disabilities into categories based on the system affected, such as the cardiovascular system, the skin, and mental disorders. Each category has a schedule of ratings for every diagnosis listed under it. A veteran must have specific symptoms associated with that diagnosis in order to qualify for a particular rating under this system.
When rating a disability, the VA will first select a broad category (such as “mental disorders”) and then find the specific diagnosis, PTSD. The VA will then locate the diagnostic code that best matches a veteran’s symptoms. This will lead to a specific rating, from 0 to 100%.
VA Disability Ratings for PTSD
The VA offers disability benefits for PTSD if you have symptoms related to a traumatic event, and:
- The traumatic event happened during your service;
- You can’t function as well as you once could because of your symptoms; and
- A doctor has diagnosed you with PTSD.
A traumatic event includes suffering a serious injury, a personal or sexual trauma, or a sexual trauma, or being threatened, with injury, sexual assault, or death.
The specific amount of benefits that you will receive for PTSD will depend on the rating that you receive. A veteran with service-connected PTSD may be entitled to 0, 10, 30, 50, 70 or 100% benefits, as follows:
- 0% PTSD Rating: formally diagnosed with PTSD, but the symptoms are not severe enough to work or social functioning or to require medication.
- 10% PTSD Rating: work or social impairment due to mild symptoms that appear only during times of significant stress, or symptoms controlled by continuous medication.
- 30% PTSD Rating: work or social impairment, with occasional decrease in work efficiency; generally able to function well; symptoms may include depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, panic attacks (weekly or less often), chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss (such as forgetting names or directions).
- 50% PTSD Rating: work and social impairment, with lower productivity and reliability due to symptoms such as flattened affect, 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.
- 70% PTSD Rating: work and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas due to symptoms including suicidal ideation, obsessive rituals, illogical speech, near-continuous panic or depression, impaired impulsive control (such as unprovoked irritability), spatial disorientation, neglect of personal appearance and hygiene, difficulty adapting to stressful circumstances, and inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.
- 100% PTSD Rating: total work and social impairment, with symptoms such as 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, disorientation to time or place, memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation or own name.
Even individuals who receive a 0% rating for PTSD may still be eligible for other benefits, such as VA healthcare. An experienced Cherry Hill veterans disability benefits attorney can help you determine if you may be eligible for these types of benefits.
Questions? We Are Here to Help
The VA benefits system can be complex, from the initial application to the appeals process. Although lawyers cannot represent veterans until after an initial rating decision has been issued, our team of legal professionals is happy to offer their assistance to veterans with their new claims. Bross & Frankel also represents veterans in the VA disability appeals process.
If you suffer from PTSD or another service-connected illness or injury, we can help. We are proud to represent the men and women who have served our country. Contact us today at 856-795-8880 or online to schedule a free claim review with a Cherry Hill veterans disability benefits attorney.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.