More than a decade of war has left thousands of disabled American veterans, with a wide range of physical and mental conditions that affect their daily lives. In addition, many new claims are coming from vets from the Vietnam era, some with illnesses now recognized to come from exposure to Agent Orange.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest federal agency next to the Department of Defense, paid out $63 billion in Fiscal Year 2015 in disability compensation for 4.5 million veterans.

Number Receiving Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders Increasing

Since 2000, the number of veterans receiving disability benefits has doubled from 2.3 million to 4.5 million in 2015.

Veterans disability benefits for PTSD are the third most common approved benefit type. Learn what evidence can show PTSD or depression are service-connected, and how to document its impact on your life.

Many 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.

PTSD and Major Depression

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.

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.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common result from combat. Learn how to make a VA disability claim for PTSD, and why you shouldn’t delay getting treatment.

The VA disability claims, and benefits paid out, for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are increasing. By 2016, PTSD was the third most common disability compensated for veterans from all wars, after tinnitus and hearing loss.

PTSD Is a Common Result of Combat

Post-traumatic stress disorder is the most common mental health disorder experienced by those in combat. The Disabled American Veterans website put together a good report on this topic. They point out that most all veterans will experience some readjustment issues. It’s important to be aware of what a normal readjustment is, compared to the kind of problems that can benefit from professional help.

For people exposed to traumatic situations, such as military combat, as many as one in five may experience PTSD symptoms. Your symptoms may be immediately visible, or they may simmer under the surface for months or years until they’re triggered by an event.

The VA estimates the rates of PTSD experienced by veterans according to their service area are:

  • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans who served in OIF or OEF will have PTSD in a given year.
  • Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans will have PTSD in a given year.
  • Vietnam War: It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. 

Filing VA Disability Claims for PTSD

The first step to getting disability benefits for treatment is to be diagnosed with service-connected PTSD. This typically requires that you first be diagnosed with PTSD, and that the symptoms are consistent with your service experiences. It’s possible if you experienced a traumatic event before service, and your military service made it worse, that you can qualify for benefits – this requires that a doctor affirms that the condition didn’t just worsen due to the natural progress of the disorder, but was aggravated by military service.

After filing a claim, and being diagnosed, you will be measured for the level of impairment, from 0% – 100%, depending on how much the condition interferes with normal life functions. VA compensation payments begin at 10% and increase at each rating level.

PTSD symptoms can appear throughout a veteran’s life. They might show up soon after returning from active duty or they could be triggered in vets 15 – 20 years later. They can still appear in Vietnam vets and those aging vets who served in Korea.

In 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs relaxed its claim requirements for veterans seeking PTSD assistance. The old regulations had made it hard and time-consuming to produce all of the required documentation. In 2011, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan vets won a settlement from the VA for a class-action lawsuit regarding disability benefits for PTSD. The tide is turning towards full recognition of the seriousness of PTSD and the need for veterans to receive proper treatment, as they would for a physical disability.

Many Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) provide free services to help veterans apply for disability benefits. Groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and American Legion maintain offices at the regional benefit centers with accredited officers trained to help you file your claims. They help you navigate the process and can increase the chance that you successfully document your PTSD claim.

Better Not to Delay Treatment

It’s never too late to file VA disability claims, but if you’re having PTSD symptoms, it’s better to get treatment right away. Serious stress problems can interfere with your relationships at home and work. Left untreated, they can affect your ability to succeed at work or school and ultimately, your ability to make a living.

Treatment can be a combination of counseling sessions and possibly medication, if needed. Types of counseling can include individual therapy, family therapy, or group therapy – depending on your individual needs. Veterans may be eligible for mental health treatment at VA medical centers or community-based treatment clinics.

PTSD often creates stress-related problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, or eating disorders. Stress can also create co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression. These problems can be treated at the same time.

Some veterans may need a rehabilitation plan that could include vocational training and temporary financial assistance. There are many benefits available that you should look into, including those available through the disability compensation program.

Service-Connected Aggravation and Non-Service-Connected Progression

Learn the difference between a service-connected aggravation and a natural progression of a non-service-connected medical condition.

Dear Benefits Advisor,

USMC 1977, three weeks into training I broke my wrist doing jump down push ups sent home my position because of scare tactics of operation and recovery time by usmc. Filed they said it was an old break had arthritis in it said it was a oversight at recruitment physical (not true) denied claim filed again years later they said I should file for made worse by training . VA no help. I Don’t trust any of this where do I go for help. Jim

Dear Jim,

A viable compensation claim can be made as a result of a service-connected condition or due to an increase in severity of a non-service-connected disability. The increase in severity has to be attributable to aggravation by a service-connected medical even, which you appeared to suffer. That aggravation must not be caused by the natural progression of the non-service-connected medical problem.

First, you must establish a baseline of the non-service connected disability from before you entered the servcie. If this is not possible, then you must find the earliest medical records that show the onset of the current aggravation and the then-current level of severity of the non-service-related disability. If you cannot do so, then it is doubtful that you will ever be granted VA benefits.

Accordingly, you need to seek the advice of a VA accredited attorney or the services of a non-profit veterans’ organization such as Disabled American Veterans or the American Legion. These providers of VA services can decode your claim and situation to determine if you have a viable VA compensation claim.


Benefits Advisor

Disabled American Veterans Are Entitled to Compensation

Find out if you qualify for veterans disability benefits for your physical or mental condition caused by military service, and learn four reasons why you should apply right away.

Today, more than four million veterans receive compensation due to a service-connected disability. Disability compensation is intended to replace the lost earnings capacity that veterans have suffered because of their service to our country.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, disability compensation is “a monetary benefit paid to veterans who are disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.” Monthly benefits are paid out based on the severity of the injury or illness, and the number of a veteran’s dependents.

Don’t Be Ashamed to Claim What You’re Entitled To

Veterans groups report that the economy is causing some vets to apply for disability benefits who might otherwise just try to put up with their conditions. Some vets might be embarrassed that they can’t find a job – but the down economy is an even better reason to see if you are eligible for disability compensation.

There are at least four good reasons to go ahead and get an official designation for your condition:

  1. Extra money – Even if your condition is found to render you only 10% disabled, you could still receive about $134 each month, tax-free.
  2. Your condition may worsen over time – You may be young now and think that bad knee isn’t that bad, but it can decelerate into arthritis by middle age. Start now to accumulate those monthly payments you’ll be glad to have later.
  3. Access to more benefits – Once you receive a disability designation, the VA pays for the medical care you need for that condition. In some cases, you may also have access to medical care for problems not related to the disability. Disabled American veterans may also be eligible for other programs such as vocational rehabilitation, VA guaranteed home loans and other benefits.
  4. Survivor benefits – One reason not to delay applying for official designation of your disability is that the survivors of disabled vets can be eligible for education benefits and pensions.

If you are suffering from a physical or mental condition that stems from your military service for your country, you are entitled to be compensated for it. Don’t delay finding out what you need to know to make your application.