Being unable to speak can affect a lot of your life, especially if you a Veteran with aphonia caused by PTSD or other trauma. Veterans can get a VA rating for service-connected aphonia.
We’ve all had moments when we’ve been stunned into silence, but what do you do if that’s become your whole life? You know your voice works, but you can’t find it somehow, and speaking has become impossible. You’re trapped in a world of silence, and you can’t even speak a word to ask for help.
If this sounds familiar, you may be living with functional aphonia. This is a serious condition, but it is treatable, and you may be able to get compensation from the VA for it. Read on to learn more about functional aphonia and how you could qualify for VA disability compensation.
What We Cover in this Article on Functional Aphonia VA Disability:
- What Is Functional Aphonia?
- Symptoms of Functional Aphonia
- Causes of Functional Aphoria
- Risk Factors
- Functional Aphonia vs. Dysphonia
- How the VA Rates Functional Aphonia
- What Are Secondary Conditions?
- How VA Disability Ratings Work
- How to Qualify for VA Disability
- Getting a Diagnosis
- Proving a Service Connection
- Getting a Medical Nexus
- Getting Help with Your Application
- VA Disability Compensation Rates
- If Your Claim Is Denied
- Get Help for Your Functional Aphonia
What Is Functional Aphonia?
Functional aphonia is a condition in which a person’s vocal structures are intact and healthy, but that person can’t speak. This is usually a psychological disorder, often related to trauma or other mental conditions. In veterans, it may often be the result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Functional aphonia differs from standard aphonia in that it doesn’t have a physical cause. Normal aphonia may be caused by throat surgery, laryngitis, or similar sorts of circumstances. But functional aphonia is entirely the result of some sort of psychological condition or trauma; although the person could speak physiologically, their mental state will not allow them.
Symptoms of Functional Aphonia
The primary symptom of functional aphonia, of course, is that the sufferer is completely unable to speak. They may or may not be able to make other conscious vocal sounds, such as grunts or cries, depending on their particular situation. They may also talk in their sleep if that was something they did before their condition developed.
One way to tell if someone has functional aphonia is to see if they can produce a normal cough. Coughing uses all the same vocal structures that speaking does, and the coughing sound comes from our vocal cords. If the patient can cough normally but can’t speak, it’s a good sign their condition is not physically-based.
Causes of Functional Aphoria
There are a number of different things that can cause functional aphonia, though most of them are rooted in trauma of some sort. In most cases, this trauma will be tied to some sort of pathological guilt or shame. This could be the result of abuse at an early age or some sort of severe cultural conflict that causes a personal crisis.
Each case of functional aphonia is as unique as the person it impacts. In the case of veterans, prisoner of war experiences could result in a person developing this condition. Survivor’s guilt or an incident in which the veteran ran away from combat may also produce the sort of guilt and shame that can lead to functional aphonia.
There are a few conditions that could put a person at a somewhat higher risk of developing functional aphonia in response to a traumatic event. A person on the autism spectrum, for instance, may be more likely to develop this condition. Some people with autism may experience functional aphonia as a result of their condition and unrelated to any trauma.
People with pre-existing or comorbid psychological disorders may also be more likely to develop this condition. People with schizophrenia might experience functional aphonia, especially if they aren’t receiving treatment for their condition. A person in the midst of a psychotic break or who has untreated psychosis may also stop speaking as a part of their mental disorder.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about how SMC (Special Monthly Compensation) works to help you get more money for extra expenses related to your disabling condition every month.
Functional Aphonia vs. Dysphonia
When you start reading up on functional aphonia, you may run into the term “dysphonia” fairly quickly. But while the two share characteristics, they are not the same. Both conditions impact a patient’s ability to speak and vocalize normally, but they have different degrees of severity.
As we’ve discussed, aphonia is characterized by a complete inability to speak – the person cannot make any spoken vocalizations whatsoever. But dysphonia occurs when a person can make some vocalizations, but not within normal parameters. They may be hoarse, they might whisper, or their voice might be very breathy.
How the VA Rates Functional Aphonia
Because functional aphonia is so rare and each case is so unique, the VA does not have an official rating system for it. However, you may still be able to get disability compensation for functional aphonia. You may be able to get it rated as a secondary condition.
Although it doesn’t have its own VA rating scale, functional aphonia does fall on the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) list of symptoms. This assessment is designed to determine how severe various mental health conditions are; the lower the score, the more severe the condition. On the GAF scale, the sort of severe communication impairment functional aphonia causes will earn you a score between 11 and 20 on the 100-point scale.
What Are Secondary Conditions?
A secondary condition is one that is the result of another condition caused by your military service. While the VA may not provide a rating for the secondary condition directly, you may be able to get compensation for it thanks to its connection to your primary ratable condition.
Because functional aphonia is so often tied to trauma, it is most commonly rated as a secondary condition for PTSD. Many veterans return from their service with PTSD, which can cause a variety of other problems ranging from insomnia to functional aphonia and more. Depending on your other symptoms, your GAF score, and your overall functionality, you could get as high as a 100 percent disability rating with PTSD as your primary condition.
How VA Disability Ratings Work
When the VA approves your disability claim, they will assess how severe your condition is and how much it impacts your ability to live a normal, healthy life. These ratings are expressed as percentages, with the higher percentages reflecting a more severe impact on your life. It’s important to note that this runs in the opposite direction of the GAF scale, where a lower score indicates a more severe condition.
Your disability rating will fall somewhere between 10 and 100 percent and will be rounded to the nearest 10 percent for compensation purposes. In fact, your rating will be the biggest factor in determining how much money you’ll get from the VA each month. The more severe your condition is, the more you’ll get.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
How to Qualify for VA Disability
In order to qualify for VA disability compensation, you must meet three main criteria. First of all, you must have an official diagnosis from a VA-approved medical professional. In most cases, your family doctor should be able to provide this diagnosis or refer you to a specialist who can.
Once you have a diagnosis, you will need to be able to point to a specific incident or set of circumstances in your military service that could have caused your condition. If you’re getting a secondary rating for functional aphonia, you’ll need your service rating to apply to your primary condition. Finally, you’ll need to get a medical nexus from your doctor connecting your condition and your service connection.
The Nexus Letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains the importance of the Nexus Letter.
Getting a Diagnosis
Getting a diagnosis for functional aphonia can be tricky, not least of all because of the communication challenges this condition causes. Ask a family member or loved one to help you make your appointment; they may also need to accompany you to the appointment.
At your appointment, your doctor may ask you questions about your condition, including when it started and whether you can produce any vocalizations at all. They may also run some tests to rule out any physical problems that could be causing your condition. In many cases, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who will provide your final diagnosis.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
Proving a Service Connection
Once you have your official diagnosis, you’ll need to be able to prove a service connection for your primary condition. This is effectively a specific incident or set of circumstances that could have caused your condition. This will need to be a documented incident in your military service record to qualify.
In the case of PTSD, almost any aspect of military service could be a potential service connection. However, if you plan to claim functional aphonia as a secondary condition, you may want to make your service connection the incident that sparked your aphonia. This can help to give you a stronger case when you apply for this secondary connection.
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Getting a Medical Nexus
With your diagnosis and service connection in hand, it will be time to get your medical nexus. If possible, get your military records and find your service connection before you go to your diagnosing appointment. This may allow you to get your medical nexus the same day as your diagnosis, speeding up your application process.
Your medical nexus is effectively a certified statement from your doctor confirming that your condition was at least as likely as not caused by the incident you pointed out in your service record. This prevents veterans from claiming disability compensation for conditions that started before or after their military service. For instance, you can’t claim VA disability for a concussion you got five years after you left the service.
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Getting Help with Your Application
If you have functional aphonia, going through the steps to submit a VA disability application may be significantly more challenging. If possible, have a loved one who knows your situation help you through this process. You can also contact us via our contact form and we can work with you via email or a trusted friend.
The VA office in your area can help you get hands on your military records and put together an application. They may be able to help you arrange an appointment with an approved physician as well. A lawyer specializing in veteran affairs can also be a great choice when you’re putting together your disability application. We’ve helped thousands of veterans get the full amount of VA disability that they deserve.
VA Disability Compensation Rates
The biggest factor in determining how much money you’ll get from the VA every month is your disability rating. For ratings of 10 percent, you’ll get $152.64 per month tax-free; for a 20 percent rating, you’ll get $467.39. But for ratings of 30 percent and above, the VA also begins to look at how many dependents you have.
Let’s say you get a 50 percent disability rating and you don’t have anyone depending on you financially. You’ll get $958.44 per month from the VA. But if you also have a spouse and a child depending on you financially, you’ll get a monthly payment of more than $1,000.
If Your Claim Is Denied
If you’ve sent in a disability compensation claim and it got denied, don’t worry; you still have options. You can appeal the decision on your case, including taking it all the way up to the BVA in Washington, D.C. if necessary. You can also appeal if you get a lower rating than you feel your condition deserves.
If you plan to go through the appeals process, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer who’s familiar with veteran affairs. For one thing, they know insider tips and tricks that can help you file a successful application. They can also help you put together an application that will get you the highest possible disability rating for your condition.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about the VA appeals process.
Get Help for Your Functional Aphonia
Living with functional aphonia can be tremendously difficult, but if you served in the military, you may be entitled to compensation for this condition. You’ll have to file it as a secondary condition, with the primary condition likely being PTSD or a similar condition. Contact us today to start your disability application process.
If you’d like help filing or appealing a claim, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today and start getting the compensation you deserve.
We work via email, phone, chat, or whatever it takes to communicate clearly with our clients. We help hundreds of veterans every week, so we can work out a way to work with you. Contact us online or via Facebook messenger and we’ll get started on your case.
Since the best way to get VA disability for functional aphonia is as a secondary connected condition, you would still receive benefits based on your primary service-connected disability. Nothing is automatic with the VA, so a lot would depend on your follow-up examination and what your condition is at that time.