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PTSD—It’s a term that veterans hear quite often. As a psychological condition, it’s commonly associated with those who have experienced the realities of combat. But diagnoses of PTSD are not limited just to service members who’ve been in combat.
So what exactly is PTSD and what’s the best way to present your claim to the VA? Let’s start by defining it and the standard that the VA uses. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a guidebook published by the American Psychiatric Association. It catalogues recognized mental illnesses—including the symptoms of those illnesses as well as the ways to diagnose them. The DSM is currently in its fifth major edition—which is called, not surprisingly, the DSM 5. The VA relies upon it for diagnosing and determining impairment levels for PTSD (and other mental health issues). It’s important to know against what yardstick the VA measured your claim—and to assess whether your claim measures up.
PTSD, as you may already know, is an acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In very broad terms, it refers to a person’s generally negative response, after the fact, to an event (or series of events) that threatens his/her safety. The DSM 5 lists eight indicators to assess a diagnosis of PTSD.
- Stressor: Was there exposure (real or threatened) to death, serious injury or sexual violence?
- Intrusion: Is the traumatic event persistently re-experienced?
- Avoidance: Is there avoidance of things that are associated with the trauma?
- Negative Alterations: Are there negative alterations in thought processes, mood, or both since the trauma?
- Alterations In Arousal/Reactivity: Are there physiological responses to the trauma? These could include (but are not limited to) things like insomnia or hyper-vigilance?
- Duration: Have these symptoms lasted over 30 days?
- Functional Significance: Do these symptoms have a “clinically significant distress or impairment” into regular aspects of life?
- Exclusion: Is there anything else that can explain these symptoms?
These factors are in the context of the standard three elements for a successful disability claim with the VA—a current disability, an in-service injury/stressor, and the link between the disability and the in-service stressor. If the VA has denied your claim for PTSD, their Statement of the Case (SOC) should specify exactly which part they thought was lacking and why. Was it the diagnosis itself? Was it the perceived lack of an in-service stressor? Was it a problem with the link between the two? The SOC will be your guide to an effective appeal.
The Current Disability
It’s important that you have a doctor’s report that explains a diagnosis of PTSD. In that report, the doctor who diagnoses the PTSD should fully describe why he/she feels that it’s PTSD under the criteria of the DSM 5. This can be especially important in cases where another doctor suggests that the symptoms are caused by something else.
The In-service Injury/Stressor
PTSD can result from a single event or a series of events. It’s important to identify all of the stressors in your claim as specifically as possible. In broad terms, any traumatic event or series of events that satisfy the diagnostic criteria in DMS 5 are acceptable. You still need to be clear on what that event or those events are, such as:
If the trauma you suffered was a result of experiencing combat, you’ll need to provide evidence that you actually were in combat. A DD-214 is a good start since it should have records of medals and awards you may have received, your military occupation, the units with which you had served, and the dates of that service. You provide as much specific evidence as you can about dates of specific service, units to which you were attached, events, campaigns, missions, locations, and so forth.
Proving a non-combat stressor is a little more challenging. Examples of non-combat stressors can include things such as experiencing a traumatic accident or serving duty with a graves registration unit. You need to provide credible evidence that the claimed in-service stressor occurred. Again, the more corroborating evidence you can provide, the better your chances of a successful claim (and, if necessary, appeal) will be. It may help to have corroborating statements from others in service with you about specific events you experienced.
Rape, Domestic Violence, Harassment, Physical or Sexual Assault
It’s an unfortunate truth that horrible things that have nothing to do with military service can still happen to service members. Your military service record may not have a specific record of this kind of stressor but you can still find corroborating evidence to support your claim. This might be in the form of a police report or emergency medical services records. Statements from fellow veterans and witnesses can also help legitimize your claim.
The Link Between The Two
This is where a doctor’s findings are crucial. It’s important that the doctor who diagnosed you with PTSD specifically state that it is “at least as likely as not” that your PTSD is the result of the traumatic event or events that you experienced while in service.
Because of the complexities involved in a PTSD claim, successfully filing a PTSD claim with the VA can be a challenge. After suffering the trauma that led you to this point, you may be facing another fight to get what you deserve. If you’ve filed your claim and had it denied, it’s a good time to consider seeking qualified help. We at The Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr are uniquely qualified to advocate for you. Contact us for a free consultation.