Vets with PTSD Struggle to Obtain Disability Benefits

Some might know it by its other names-shell shock, war/combat neurosis and battle fatigue-but post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been a recognized clinical disorder applicable to servicemen and -women since 1980. While manifestations of the condition vary, a significant number of service personnel have sought medical and financial assistance as a result of PTSD, only to be frustrated in their attempts to get help.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to or in response to a traumatic event. Symptoms can include flashbacks, emotional numbness, trouble concentrating, memory problems and self-destructive behavior. While there is no cure for PTSD, treatment has included psychotherapy and medication management.

Since PTSD was recognized as a mental disorder that impacts military personnel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations govern the application and adjudication of benefits for this condition. The regulations require medical evidence of a current, clear diagnosis of PTSD, a link between current PTSD symptoms and an in-service stressor, and credible support that the claimed stressor actually occurred. In a perfect world, once established, a degree of disability is determined and benefits are calculated. However, veterans have been encountering problems as they proceed through the system.

VA Disability Ratings and Benefits

When determining a veteran's disability rating, Congress allows the VA to award ratings from 10 to 100 percent (in 10 percent increments). However, a rating cannot be more than 100 percent or "a total rating." This does not account for veterans with multiple disabilities, which if rated separately would not add up to the VA rating. Consequently, some veterans may not feel they are being compensated for the full extent of the disabilities they suffer.

Additionally, veterans with a PTSD determination are finding that their degrees of disability are rated lower than supporting documentation. They are also finding that they are being approved for compensation, but are not receiving all of their entitled disability benefits. Veterans are not rated as high as they should be and as a result are not receiving the amount of compensation they are entitled to for their injuries.

For veterans already in financial need, delays in compensation, inconsistent disability determinations and reduction in compensation can be devastating. In most cases, veterans are unable to maneuver the various forms and regulations that are required to challenge unfair disability determinations. In cases such as these, veterans and their families should seek the aid of an experienced attorney to help them protect their rights.