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Veterans disability benefits include mental conditions

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  9 Comments

veterans-disability-benefits2Many service members may be reluctant to seek Veteran’s disability benefits treatment for mental health issues. This may be because they worry it will affect their ability to advance in the military; it can also be due to the VA’s history of not recognizing mental health conditions, and/or underrating the disability they can cause.

One study found that as many as one in five veterans returning from service in Iraq or Afghanistan reported having symptoms of PTSD or major depression — yet only about half seek treatment. But left untreated, mental health problems can eventually disrupt a vet’s life, leading to alcohol and drug abuse problems, difficulty holding down a job and causing trouble in relationships.

Number receiving disability benefits for mental disorders increasing

Veteran’s disability benefits for eligible mental health conditions are worth pursuing. If the condition is found to be service-connected, you are entitled to receive free medical attention for the problem and monthly payments, depending on the severity.

For veterans who began receiving disability payments in 2011, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was the third most common disability — behind tinnitus and hearing loss. Disability claims for mental disorders are increasing as a percentage of all claims, with the number first receiving benefits for mental conditions up 7% from 2010 to 2011. In 2011, a total of 878,000 vets were receiving disability compensation for mental disorders.

There has been an increase in PTSD claims, in part because the VA changed its evidence requirements. The VA used to require specific evidence showing exactly which events in military service caused the PTSD, but has since relaxed that requirement.

Is the stigma lessening?

Our culture still carries a stigma about mental health problems, and this may be especially true in an occupation like the military where service members are supposed to be tough and strong.

But the recent media attention to PTSD and other conditions leading to veterans committing suicide seem to have made the topic seem too important not to talk about anymore. An Australian general just published a memoir detailing his decades-long struggle with the mental and emotional problems caused by PTSD.

In his book, “Exit Wounds: One Australian’s War on Terror,” Major General John Cantwell details the emotional scars of war. He says he tried to hide PTSD for decades because he thought it would affect his career. His tours included Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s and Iraq in the 2000s. He writes, “My hope is that the story of my twenty year struggle with PTSD may encourage other veterans to acknowledge their problems and seek help.”

However improved our attitudes about PTSD might be, they might not extend to other mental health issues such as depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness issued a “Depression and Veterans Fact Sheet” noting that depression is still less acceptable than PTSD, causing many veterans not to seek treatment.

Claiming disability benefits

If the stigma against emotional problems is lessening for our veterans, when they do seek help, the VA has not always been there. Many experts agree that in the face of much criticism, the VA has in recent years made sincere efforts to improve its ability to diagnose and process mental health claims. Unfortunately, though, the huge numbers of new claims for all disabilities are swamping all efforts to get veterans timely treatment.

The key often comes down to finding the right evidence. Once you move past the challenge of showing that the condition is service connected – you then have the challenge of getting an accurate rating on your disability level. Some believe that the VA tries to reduce its backlog and move cases along by acknowledging the mental health condition, but giving it a low disability rating.

It’s also often thought that the one hour exam by a VA doctor is not adequate to fully evaluate a condition’s effects. In many cases, the veteran will need to do some homework on finding the right medical opinions to document the condition. In these cases, seeking the advice of an experienced lawyer can help you build your case.

For some mental health conditions, such as psychiatric disabilities, it can be a matter of having the right doctor evaluate and explain the diagnosis. Certain conditions can be mistakenly diagnosed as personality disorder, which is not a recognized disability.

Additional, non-medical evidence can be useful to show how the condition impairs daily functioning. Statements from friends and family close to the veterans with examples and observations of problems can help. In some cases, employment records can be used to show diminished output, fewer hours, or other negative effects. This works somewhat like a personal injury claim – to receive compensation, you have to document how the injury has affected your life. It also helps to keep a daily log of how the condition impacts your day.

The stress of finding evidence to receive veteran’s disability benefits can be a lot to handle for someone already suffering mentally from their military service. Be sure you get good advice and help. Veteran’s Service Organizations offer free help to veterans in the claim process. If your initial claim is denied, it’s a good time to get legal advice for an appeal. Most attorneys accredited with the VA will offer you a free consultation to discuss your case. If you decide to hire an attorney, most work on a contingency basis – which means you don’t have to pay them unless you win your case.

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  • Published: 11 months ago on March 3, 2016
  • By:
  • Last Modified: December 5, 2016 @ 7:21 pm
  • Filed Under: Veterans Benefits
  • John R. Spofforth

    I was recently told that in April, 2007, the Cleveland (Ohio) VA Regional Center denied my appeal to service-connect my serious spinal injury that I sustained while on active duty in 1955. I have twice sent records for MRI, x-ray, and chiropractic treatments for this injury to Cleveland VA, which has twice “lost” those records. I increasingly have pain and stress in my neck and shoulder from the 1955 injury. This is complicated by my non-service connected clinical depression that in part the Cleveland VA has contributed to. I am 84 and have low income. I need a Veterans Attorney cognizant in Cue-and-Error policy to plead my case, which I first filed in 1994, then as an appeal in 2004. The Cleveland VA has wrongly refused to service-connect my spinal injury. Currently, I have 10% disability rating. I seek 50% or higher disability rating for my spinal injury and depression.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear John,

      If I understand correctly, your claim was denied in 2007 and you have not appealed or filed a new claim. If this is correct, you need to file a new claim. I suggest that you seek the help of a accredited VA charity that handles VA claims such as the American Legion, the Disabled Veterans, or a similar organization to assist you with your next step. If you prefer to work with an attorney, you might contact your state’s Bar Association to locate an accredited VA attorney.

      Sincerely,
      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  • James Sherriffs

    I am a veteran that has a service connected disability. It is only 10%, but I have provided additional documentation from various doctors which should increase my rate. The areas are my left & right eye and left lung. I was brutally beaten up by a drill instructor, and knocked off a rope, which led to me being discharged. I have been told that I have P.T.S.D., which was diagnosed by the V.A doctors, and they are given me treatment. I have yet to file a disability claim, which I am doing do so now. I also have other issues, back problems, headaches/vertigo, and sleep apnea. I have been told that all of these problems, are more likely then not tied to the brutal attack I suffered. My question is that filing several more claims, would the V.A. reject them, because they feel I am trying to have every ailment related to the attack? I do feel that this is all related the attack. Sincerely, James S.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear James,

      If you believe it is plausible that all your current medical conditions relates back to the in-service injury, then all these medical problems should be treated in one claim filing. There is no reason to file a separate claim for each medical condition.

      Sincerely,
      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  • Gordon Sanders

    My name is Mr x i been seeing a va mental health doctor for three and i was diagnose begin a diabetic early stages of it do you think i should put in a claim

    • Gordon Sanders

      for three years

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Gordon,

      In order to have a plausible claim for VA benefits you need to prove (1) you are a veteran; (2) you had an in-service medical illness, injury, or medical condition; (3) you have a current medical condition; and (4) there is linkage between your current medical condition and your in-service event.

      Sincerely,
      Craig L. Ames
      Accredited VA Attorney

  • WHAT IF A VETERAN, WHEN HE WAS A CHILD,OR ADOLESENT, HAS A TRUMATIC EVENT SUCH AS WATCHING A PARENT DIE SUDENLY,AND IS IN A HORRABLE CAR CRASH, BUT DOES NOT GET TREATMENT BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF FAMILY INCOME,AN OR DOSE NOT KNOW ABOUT SUCH THINGS AS P.T.S.D,. THEN JOINS THE MILITARY AN FIND OUT HE HAS MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES THAT LEAD TO EARLY DISCHARGE, THEN LATER IS DIAGNOSED BY A VA.,PHYCOLOGIST AS HAVING P.T.S.D,. WILL VA., HONOR THE FACT THAT THE VETERAN DID NOT KNOW ABOUT HIS MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION BEFORE ENTERING THE MILITARY.BUT BELIVES HE HAS EVIDENCE HIS CONDITION WAS AGGREVATED BY MILITARY SERVICE?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear James,

      The veteran should should apply for VA compensation benefits. It may be difficult to prove that military service aggravated his mental condition, but if he doesn’t try, he’ll never know. It would be helpful to have legal help from an attorney who is knowledgeable about VA claims.

      Sincerely,

      Jim Brown
      VA Comment Moderator

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