Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often misunderstood. Some Veterans assume that PTSD is an inevitable consequence of military service, while others brush off the signs of this serious disorder as combat stress. Understanding the difference between normal combat stress and a PTSD diagnosis is crucial to helping you get the care you need while protecting your right to VA disability benefits.
About Combat Stress
Combat stress, also known as battle fatigue or shell shock, is a common symptom of military service. This term refers to the symptoms a solider is likely to experience due to the extreme stress of battle.
Common indications of combat stress include:
- Insomnia or other trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling anxious and uncertain
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Appetite changes
- Increased body aches and pains that have no readily identifiable physical cause
Combat stress is normal and not considered a medical condition in need of treatment. It is essentially a more extreme version of the stress-related symptoms civilians experience when they are dealing with a serious personal crisis such as a loved one’s illness or a sudden job loss.
Combat stress is dealt with using lifestyle modifications and self-help strategies. This includes making time for regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, talking to others with similar experiences, seeking guidance from a spiritual leader, and using humor to help diffuse situations you find particularly stressful.
How Combat Stress Is Related to PTSD
Typically, combat stress subsides within a few weeks after a Veteran returns home to their normal life. However, some soldiers continue to experience the symptoms of extreme stress even when there is no real danger present. When these symptoms last longer than four weeks and are severe enough to interfere with daily functioning, a Veteran may be diagnosed with PTSD.
The hallmarks of a PTSD diagnosis include:
- Feeling “on edge” and anxious or fearful most or all of the time
- Believe that other people are not to be trusted or that the world has become a very dangerous place
- Having flashbacks or nightmares of a specific traumatic event
- Avoiding people, situations, or events that trigger memories of the trauma experienced in military service
Veterans with untreated PTSD may also abuse drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms, have difficulty maintaining personal relationships, and engage in self-harm or suicidal behavior.
Getting Help for PTSD
PTSD is not a sign of mental weakness. It is a serious medical condition. Someone with PTSD can’t simply “snap out of it” or get better through willpower alone. They need access to counseling and/or medication to help process their trauma and cope with their symptoms.
There are nearly 200 VA treatment centers for Veterans with PTSD across the United States. Phone counseling (also known as telemental health care) is available for those who do not live near a suitable VA facility.
Veterans with service-connected PTSD are entitled to medical care and monthly cash payments.
To receive VA disability benefits, you must:
- Have a diagnosis of PTSD from your healthcare provider
- Describe the traumatic event that occurred during your military service with as much detail as possible
- Have a psychologist or psychiatrist who can testify that your stressor was significant enough to result in PTSD
Some Veterans with PTSD may be able to receive additional compensation for what is referred to as secondary-service connected disabilities. These are conditions that medical research supports are caused by your initial service-connected disability. For someone with PTSD, this often includes depression, panic disorder, migraines, hypertension, or sleep apnea.
If your application for VA disability benefits is approved, you’ll be assigned a VA rating
from 10% to 100% for each service-connected disability. Higher ratings lead to higher compensation, but ratings of 100% are difficult to obtain.
A Veteran with PTSD that makes it difficult to work full-time may qualify for Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits. This allows a Veteran to receive benefits at the same rate as someone deemed 100% disabled. To qualify for TDIU, you must be earning less than a poverty-level wage or employed at a position that is considered a protected work environment.
The Value of Legal Representation
Applications for VA disability benefits based on PTSD are frequently denied due to misinterpretations of the law. Seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney who can help you thoroughly document your service-connected PTSD and your secondary-service connected conditions is the best way to protect your right to the benefits you earned while serving your country.
The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, has more than 20 years of experience helping Veterans navigate the complexities of VA disability law. Contact our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.