What Veterans Need To Know Before a VA PTSD Evaluation
PTSD is one of the most well-known but little-understood illnesses in modern American life. When it comes to military servicemen and veterans, it helps to know some basic information about what they can expect in a VA PTSD evaluation.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that, although quite common, is frequently misunderstood and even misdiagnosed in many cases. Officially, PTSD is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) as a trauma and stressor-related disorder.
Four groups of symptoms are taken into account when PTSD is being diagnosed:
- Intrusion Symptoms: Nightmares and flashbacks related to the traumatic incident, psychological and physical reactivity to things related to the traumatic incident
- Avoidance Behavior: Avoiding places, people, or situations with reminders of the traumatic incident
- Negative Changes in Cognition and Mood: Issues with memory, lack of interest in pastimes enjoyed before the traumatic incident, feelings of detachment or sadness
- Heightened Arousal and Reactivity: Very sensitive startle response, feeling jittery and hyper-aware of surroundings
Because other diagnoses like anxiety and depression share many of these symptoms, many veterans are diagnosed too late.
What happens after a PTSD diagnosis?
After a diagnosis has been confirmed, the next step is to get help. For veterans, this usually means seeking out PTSD resources through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In order to do this, there must first be a current VA PTSD diagnosis from an expert the VA has deemed competent. Second, credible evidence of the in-service stressor must be presented. This is often the most challenging aspect of service connection, as there are numerous and strict rules that dictate what can be considered credible evidence of a stressor. Finally, medical evidence that reveals a causal relationship between the stressor and the symptoms must be presented. This link is perhaps the most important aspect of qualifying for VA PTSD treatment.
How does the VA rate PTSD?
After service connection has been provided for a veteran diagnosed with PTSD, the VA must assign a rating. This rating is an important part of the process, as it has an impact on average impairment in earning capacity. The current system allows the Veterans Affairs officials to assign PTSD ratings of 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100% disabling.
Like the initial diagnosis, PTSD ratings depend on several factors:
- Thought process or communication impairment
- Suicidal thoughts
- Persistent risk of harming self or others
- Loss of memory
- Impaired impulse control
- Panic attacks
- Depressive episodes that prevent normal function
- Extremely inappropriate behavior
Each of these symptoms affects the VA’s assigned rating. And during the evaluation, the VA must also consider the following:
- Frequency and severity of psychiatric symptoms
- Length of remission between symptoms
- Capacity for treatment and adjustment during remissions
In addition to assessing the severity of the disorder, this process helps the VA determine what level of disability benefits a veteran may qualify for. With that in mind, it’s imperative for veterans to be as honest as possible about how PTSD is affecting their day-to-day functioning. Evidence of how PTSD is affecting a veteran’s ability to work is crucial. The instinct to “tough it out” or downplay symptoms can have dangerous consequences.
What can you do if the VA denies disability?
No matter the VA’s decision, if a veteran disagrees with it they have exactly one year to file an appeal. The year begins with the date on the Veterans Affairs decision letter. However, even though you have a year to file an appeal, that doesn’t mean you should wait to take action.
If a veteran was denied service connection and disability, it’s important to closely examine what factors may have been missing or incorrect in the evaluation. Taking adequate time to review these details could very well mean the difference when seeking a second diagnosis and service connection.