Post-traumatic stress disorder impacts millions of United States veterans. And if you’ve ever looked into the rules about VA disability for PTSD, you may have heard that veterans can automatically get a 50 percent disability rating for PTSD. But other places may have contradicted that, saying there is no automatic award.
Trying to navigate the world of VA disability compensation for PTSD can be complicated. Read on to learn the truth about how the VA rates PTSD and what you can expect.
In This Article About VA Ratings for PTSD:
- What Is PTSD?
- How Common Is PTSD?
- Can You Get Automatic VA Disability for PTSD?
- Why This Is a Debate
- PTSD Presumption
- What Is a 50% Rating for PTSD?
- How the VA Rates PTSD
- What It Takes to Get a 50 Percent PTSD Rating
- The Different Rating Levels
- Getting a PTSD Diagnosis
- Getting Your Service Record
- Proving a Connection Between the Two
- VA Disability Compensation Rates
- Tips for Applying for Disability
- What to Do If Your Rating Is Too Low
- Get the Right Amount of Disability for PTSD
What Is PTSD?
Before we dive into how the VA manages PTSD ratings, let’s talk a little about what PTSD is. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a form of ongoing trauma that results from a person witnessing or experiencing something traumatic. Causes can be any form of a traumatic event, but among veterans, combat situations are common causes.
A person with PTSD may find themselves trying to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event they suffered. They may have trouble sleeping or experience terrifying flashbacks in which they relive the event they suffered. They may even have difficulty distinguishing what is real and what isn’t or may lose their sense of identity.
How Common Is PTSD?
About 3.5 percent of American adults live with PTSD, and women are nearly twice as likely as men to have this condition. About 7 or 8 percent of the population will be diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lifetime. This means that nearly 8 million people have PTSD in a given year – you are not alone in living with this condition.
You may not be surprised to learn that PTSD is one of the most common conditions among veterans. Between 11 and 20 percent of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom have PTSD, and about 12 percent of veterans of the Gulf War have PTSD. About 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD at some point in their lifetime.
Can You Get Automatic VA Disability for PTSD?
If you’ve looked into getting VA disability benefits for PTSD, you may have heard that you can get an automatic disability rating of 50 percent. However, this is not quite true. There is no automatic VA disability rating that applies to all veterans.
PTSD is not considered a presumptive condition, even though it is a common condition among veterans. You can get a disability rating as low as 10 percent for a PTSD diagnosis. Your VA disability for PTSD will depend on your specific situation and the severity of your symptoms.
Why This Is a Debate
There is a confusing VA disability policy that can explain why so many people think that the VA offers an automatic 50 percent rating for PTSD. In some cases, a veteran may have to be discharged from the military because their PTSD is impacting their ability to effectively perform their duty. In this case, the veteran will be discharged with an automatic disability rating of 50 percent.
However, this situation applies to only a few veterans and will only last for six months. After six months, the VA will schedule an examination of the veteran to evaluate their condition. At that point, they’ll decide whether the veteran should continue receiving a 50 percent rating or not.
What is the difference between Permanent and Total VA Disability Ratings? One of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains in this video:
PTSD is not a presumptive condition in the traditional sense of the word. In most cases, a presumptive condition removes a veteran’s obligation to prove a service connection for their condition. For instance, if you served in areas where Agent Orange or burn pits were in use, you may not have to provide proof of a specific incident that caused your diabetes, as well as a host of other conditions.
In order to get VA disability for PTSD, you must first have a medical diagnosis of PTSD. Then you must have medical evidence that your condition is linked to something in your service record and proof that the service record event occurred.
What Is a 50% Rating for PTSD?
Before we talk about how you can, in fact, get a 50 percent PTSD rating, let’s take a moment to discuss what all these numbers mean. The VA assigns percentage ratings that reflect how much a condition impacts your ability to live a normal, healthy life. They then use this rating, among other factors, to determine how much compensation money you’ll receive each month.
VA disability ratings run on a scale from 10 percent to 100 percent. Each rating is rounded to the nearest 10 percent in order to determine your compensation rate. The VA has a series of pre-determined ratings that correspond to different symptom levels for each condition they provide compensation for.
How the VA Rates PTSD
The VA handles PTSD ratings a little differently than ratings for physical conditions. Rather than providing a rating anywhere between 10 percent and 100 percent, they rate PTSD on one of five tiers. You may get a rating of 10 percent, 30 percent, 50 percent, 70 percent, and 100 percent.
Oftentimes, a veteran may have symptoms that fit into two or more of the rating tiers. In these cases, the VA may try to average together the tiers you have symptoms from. But, in fact, they must give you the rating for the highest tier you’re showing symptoms for; even if you have only one 70 percent tier symptom, you are entitled to a 70 percent rating.
It may be difficult to get 100% TDIU from one disability, but here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about common disabilities that add up to a 100% combined rating.
What It Takes to Get a 50 Percent PTSD Rating
So let’s dive into what it does take to get an ongoing rating of 50 percent for PTSD. People with PTSD this severe won’t be able to maintain a normal social or work life. On the social end of things, they may not be able to communicate well, they may have severe mood swings, and they may have more than one panic attack per week.
At work, a veteran with PTSD severe enough to warrant a 50 percent rating may have a hard time understanding complex instructions. They may forget to complete tasks or have a hard time learning new skills, as well as struggling with motivation. They may also not be able to think abstractly or make good judgment decisions.
The Different Rating Levels
Even if you do get an initial PTSD rating of 50 percent, that rating may change over time. If your symptoms only cause a mild inconvenience for you or are controlled by medication, your rating may drop to 10 percent. If you have mild memory loss, panic attacks once a week or less, depression or anxiety, and rough periods when you can’t work normally, you’ll get a 30 percent rating.
A 70 percent PTSD rating gets assigned when a veteran begins to think about committing suicide. They may have OCD symptoms that interfere with their ability to live a normal life, as well as near-constant panic or depression symptoms, neglect of personal hygiene, and an inability to maintain relationships. If a veteran is completely incapacitated by their PTSD, they will receive a 100 percent disability rating.
Getting a PTSD Diagnosis
In order for you to get a PTSD rating at all, you must first get a diagnosis of PTSD from a VA-approved medical doctor. If your family doctor can’t provide a diagnosis themselves, they should be able to refer you to someone who can. You may need to see a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist in order to get a diagnosis.
Your doctor will begin by performing a physical examination to make sure your symptoms don’t have a physical cause. They’ll also discuss your symptoms and the events that led to them. If possible, make notes before your appointment about what symptoms you have and how often they occur.
Getting Your Service Record
In order to prove a PTSD presumption, you’re going to need to point to a specific stressor that occurred in the course of your military service. The best way to prove that a precipitating event happened is to point to it in your service record. You may want to get a copy of your service record before your doctor’s appointment so they can provide you with a medical nexus on the same day of your appointment.
The easiest way to get a copy of your service record is to contact the National Personnel Records Center by mail or by fax. You’ll want to send them Standard Form SF 180 or mail them a letter. You can also talk to your local VA office for help getting a copy of your service record.
Proving a Connection Between the Two
Once you have your diagnosis and your service record, you can get your doctor to provide a medical nexus for you. This states that your condition was at least as likely as not caused by the event in your service record. If you have your service record with you on the day of the appointment, you may be able to move that process along a little more quickly.
You must prove a medical nexus between your service and your condition to make sure it wasn’t the result of another event in your life. For instance, if a veteran gets into a serious car accident five years after they leave the service and develop PTSD, they can’t claim VA disability compensation for that. Your medical nexus certifies that your military service is responsible for your condition.
VA Disability Compensation Rates
The VA will use your disability rating to determine how much money you receive each month. For instance, if you have a rating of 10 percent, you’ll receive $152.64 per month, tax-free. If you have a rating of 20 percent, you’ll get $301.74 per month.
For ratings of 30 percent and above, the VA will take into account whether you have family members who depend on you financially. For example, if you have a 50 percent rating and no dependents, you’ll receive $958.44 per month. But if you have a spouse and a child, you’ll receive more.
Tips for Applying for Disability
When you’re applying for VA disability compensation, the most important thing is to be open and honest about all your symptoms. The VA can’t rate you for symptoms they don’t know you have, so don’t hold back. Tell them the honest impact your condition has on your life, even if it seems embarrassing or shameful; there is no shame in surviving a mental illness.
The other important thing is that you keep up with deadlines. You’ll need to make sure everything is submitted in plenty of time in order for your claim to be successful. Try to stay organized during your claims process and make sure everything gets submitted before the deadlines.
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.
What to Do If Your Rating Is Too Low
If the rating the VA gives you is too low, or if your claim gets denied, don’t worry. You can always appeal to get a higher rating or to get your case reviewed again. If needed, you can take your case all the way up to the BVA in Washington, D.C. for review.
If you plan to appeal your case, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer who specializes in veteran law. For one thing, they can help you navigate the confusing world of deadlines and paperwork. But they also know tips and tricks to help you get the maximum rating and compensation you’re entitled to.
Get the Right Amount of Disability for PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a terrible condition to live with, and it’s incredibly common among veterans. If you plan to apply for VA disability for PTSD, know that you shouldn’t plan on an automatic 50 percent rating. Instead, get your hands on your service record, make an appointment with your doctor, and be open about all your symptoms so you can get the rating you need.
If you’d like help filing or appealing a VA disability claim, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods, LLC. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today and start getting the compensation you deserve.
Only if you are actually discharged because of your PTSD. Even then, it only lasts for 6 months and then your condition is reviewed.
Sort of. The closest thing to an automatic rating would be a presumptive condition. Even for those, though, you have to prove you were stationed in the right place at the right time to qualify.