Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious, widespread issue — about 7.7 million Americans experience symptoms in one form or another. While women experience PTSD more frequently than men, it’s a well-known problem for servicemen and women in every branch of the military. With bullets flying, is it really any wonder that the traumas of battle have far-ranging effects?
There’s now more awareness of the long-term side effects of trauma than ever before. People are more understanding and accepting of PTSD, what it is and how it affects everyone. However, there is little recognition for the insidious ways that traumatic experiences can affect drone (UAV) pilots and others serving in military roles that are far from the battlefront.
In this article on PTSD and Drone Pilot VA disability:
- How Does PTSD Affect Drone Operators?
- How Do Drone Pilots Cope With PTSD?
- How Can You Prove A Drone Pilot Has Service-Connected PTSD?
- What Is PTSD?
- What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
- What Is the Potential for a VA Rating?
- PTSD VA Ratings Table
- What Are the Risk Factors and Causes of PTSD?
- What Is the VA Disability Application Process as It Relates to PTSD and Other Mental Health Concerns?
- What Can You Expect for VA Disability Compensation?
- What Do You Do if You Receive a Denial for VA Disability?
- What Should You Know About Similar Conditions?
- Next Step: Contact The PTSD VA Disability Lawyers at Woods & Woods
How Does PTSD Affect Drone Operators?
Drone (UAV) pilots operate their aircraft from remote locations, but the realization of what their actions accomplish can still cause symptoms of PTSD. One study reveals that more than 4% of drone operators show signs of PTSD, compared to 10% to 18% of deployed military personnel. It is promising that these soldiers have such a low occurrence of PTSD, but that doesn’t downplay it for those that do have PTSD..
Symptoms of PTSD lead to intrusive thoughts, recurring nightmares, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia. These maladies make it difficult for the drone operators to work, lead a normal life, etc. And it can be very hard to prove that they experienced an incident that “counts” in a VA disability rating evaluation. This could be why there is such a low number of drone operators who are able or willing to claim a PTSD diagnosis.
Drone Pilots with PTSD are just like any other military personnel who have experienced trauma, but they are also less likely to get the treatment and support they need. So the psychological effects of drone strikes may have even more severe and long-lasting effects than they would for a soldier facing daily IDEs. Certainly, the limited studies to date suggest that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is more prevalent among drone operators. At the very least, drone pilots experience stress disorders just as often as those in combat do.
How Do Drone Pilots Cope With PTSD?
Since drone pilots are living stateside with all the standard “comforts” of home, it might seem like they should be adept at handling their PTSD, at least more capable than a soldier on the battlefield would be. Appearances can deceive. In fact, drone pilots are more likely to show immediate and long-term effects of PTSD with insomnia, anger, and alcoholism — and these are just the early warning signs.
In many ways, their status “at home” instead of on the battlefield exposes drone pilots to even more trauma and guilt, with feelings of inadequacy and depression. The feelings of guilt can stem from the fact that they are “safe” behind a computer screen, playing “war games” while their fellow soldiers are in the field under regular live fire, roadside bombs, and constant life-threatening situations. It goes beyond simple survivor’s guilt. It’s a virtual reality nightmare, with exposure to incidents of rape, torture, executions, and mass graves — all live in HDTV. All the horrors of war appear before them, and they can’t just turn it off. It’s their job to watch out for threats and help protect the troops that are on the ground.
Their status as a “real veteran” is in a kind of limbo because technological innovation never accounted for this kind of soldiering, where our heroic soldiers were waging real war from behind a series of controls and big-screen monitors. Drone pilots are real and lasting heroes. Unfortunately, like so many of the soldiers who have taken on desk duty during wars and combats down through the years, drone pilots are faced with the horrible realities of drone or desk-job PTSD. It may be remote work, but that doesn’t mean that the effects are lessened by the distance.
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How Can You Prove A Drone Pilot Has Service-Connected PTSD?
There should be no difference in how one soldier with a disability claim receives approval or denial compared to another soldier who serves in a different role. But drone pilots face more than their fair share of roadblocks as they attempt to get fair treatment and disability benefits to address their PTSD and other mental health concerns. Just because the drone pilot is operating their aircraft remotely, it does not mean that the magnitude of the destruction does not affect them. These men and women are still operating an aircraft, even if they are stateside.
Their jobs are that much harder because they must make instant decisions about whether a group of people (often including women and children) are combatants without the benefit of being there to gather all the intel. Since they are remote, it can be difficult to prove how the combat affects them. To prove PTSD, a drone pilot must show that they were in combat — and that is the part that gets tricky since they aren’t technically in a combat zone. The drone pilot does not experience sniper fire, IED blasts, or gunfire, against their person.
When it comes to VA disability claims for PTSD, you want to prove your current symptoms are linked to your military service. Since different experiences affect people differently, it’s not the severity of the event that matters as much as its effect on you. During your PTSD C&P Exam, the psychiatrist will ask you about what you went through. As a UAV pilot explains what he or she saw on that screen or how they feel about the attacks they led, all that matters is how those events are connected to your current mental state.
In this video from one of our VA disability lawyers, we explain how to service connect your disability that was caused by your military service.
What Is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric condition also known as “combat fatigue” or “shell shock.” It’s frequently associated with soldiers who’ve been on the front lines, but it also affects plenty of veterans that never saw combat. Regardless of where the trauma takes place, PTSD is a disabling condition. It can, and does, destroy lives — even in “minor” cases.
The more terrifying the event, the worse the effects will be, both emotionally and physically. In fact, PTSD can be so severe that you may have a tough time remembering exactly what happened during the distressing event. You can experience a range of symptoms and side effects that are more intense or different from what the standard symptomatology looks like.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD include difficulty sleeping, vivid flashbacks, disturbing memories and nightmares. You might feel numb or be prone to violent outbursts. It may seem like you’re going to jump out of your skin if you hear a car backfire or you hear fireworks. The VA PTSD Symptoms Checklist can help you determine whether your symptoms might stem from PTSD.
PTSD disrupts your life. It can make you feel isolated from others. It can also lead to the use of alcohol, drugs, and other numbing agents or distractions in efforts to bury the trauma. If you have the symptoms of PTSD, you probably want nothing more than to forget all the horrors of war and what happened to you.
What Is the Potential for a VA Rating?
The potential for a VA disability rating for PTSD ranges from 10% (the lowest possible rating, reflecting PTSD that is thought to be manageable) to 100%, but 70% is the average. PTSD is the 6th most rated disability, with more than 63,000 claims every year. There are now 800,000 veterans receiving some type of VA benefits, the level of which is determined by reviewing medical records and other evidence.
The assessment relies on the VA PTSD rating chart. More than 53% of veterans have a PTSD rating of 50% or 70%. The 50% indicates that the veteran endures impaired judgment, panic attacks, mood disturbance, and occupational and social impairment. The 70% rating points to more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, depression, obsessional rituals, and hygienic neglect.
PTSD VA Ratings Table
|PTSD VA Rating||Severity of Symptoms|
|0 % VA Rating||A mental condition has been formally diagnosed, but symptoms are not severe enough either to interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication.|
|10% VA Rating||Occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to:|
– perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or
– symptoms controlled by continuous medication
|30% VA Rating||Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal), due to such symptoms as:|
– depressed mood
– panic attacks (weekly or less often)
– chronic sleep impairment
– mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events)
|50% VA Rating||Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as:|
– flattened affect (very bland disposition, apathetic, no emotions)
– circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech
– panic attacks more than once a week
– difficulty in understanding complex commands
– impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks)
– impaired judgment
– impaired abstract thinking
– disturbances of motivation and mood
– difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships
|70% VA Rating (Most Common)||Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as:|
– suicidal thoughts
– obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities
– speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant
– near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively
– impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence)
– spatial disorientation
neglect of personal appearance and hygiene
– difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a work-like setting)
– inability to establish and maintain effective relationships
|100% VA Rating||Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as:|
– gross impairment in thought processes or communication
– persistent delusions or hallucinations
– grossly inappropriate behavior
– persistent danger of hurting self or others
– intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene)
– disorientation to time or place
– memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name
What Are the Risk Factors and Causes of PTSD?
PTSD can affect anyone, but there are factors that might make you more susceptible to it or likely to feel its effects more deeply. Your previous traumatic experiences are a big part of that equation, whether you’ve experienced a natural disaster, rape, violence, abuse, injury, or another severe stressor in your life. Previous trauma increases the odds that your military experiences will more severely affect you and lead to PTSD. In other words, the harder it is for a veteran to cope, the more likely their rating will be in the 70%+ rating range.
You may be at higher risk of developing PTSD if others in your family experience depression or PTSD symptoms. Some of the risk factors overlap, which can make it difficult to predict, avoid and/or treat the symptoms. Another risk factor is the level of local support and understanding that you have before, during, and after a traumatic event. And additional stressors such as a death or job loss can further exacerbate the situation, contributing to the likelihood that PTSD will develop.
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about the VA Rating Formula for Mental Disorders and Disabilities like PTSD.
What Is the VA Disability Application Process as It Relates to PTSD and Other Mental Health Concerns?
Determining VA disability is a fairly straightforward process — at least it should be if all would go according to the existing rules and regulations. You must be able to prove what happened during your military service that directly correlates to PTSD, so here are the quick steps:
- Your medical records must bear a diagnosis that is consistent with the PTSD claims.
- You must prove that an event (or series of events) happened while you were on active duty and precipitated your PTSD and other mental health considerations.
- Your medical evidence should show a clear link between your medical diagnosis and the incident.
As part of that service connection, the VA evaluates the diagnosis and incident in relation to a list of mental health issues that qualify. Given the process and what’s involved, it makes sense that drone strike pilots don’t typically rate as having PTSD in the traditional sense of the word and may not make the cut when the VA is determining ratings. As for the question: “Do drone pilots get PTSD?” The obvious answer is yes, though it may not be so easy to prove.
What Can You Expect for VA Disability Compensation?
The VA rating determines what you’re eligible to receive based on the PTSD compensation chart, but other factors also come into play. For example, if you have dependents and a spouse, the compensation will be higher than if you are single. The rate of compensation can also change from year to year.
The 70% PTSD rating compensation is $1,663.06 per month if you have a spouse and three children under 18 years of age.
What Do You Do if You Receive a Denial for VA Disability?
If you’ve applied to VA disability and the VA rejects your application, you can appeal the decision. The appeal process can be long and difficult, and there’s no guarantee that the VA will overturn the decision. The most common reason for a denial is “no medical diagnosis of a disability,” which simply means that you did not adequately prove a diagnosis that is consistent with a disability associated with your military medical records.
Proving a claim of disability is a complicated process in which various factors beyond your control can affect the outcome. And until you’re able to prove your claim, you’re not eligible for the benefits. That’s why we typically recommend that you consult with a lawyer who is familiar with VA benefits and disability. What you need more than anything is an advocate who can assess your situation and determine whether you have a viable claim.
What Should You Know About Similar Conditions?
There is a chance your doctor will diagnose you with something other than PTSD or that you believe what you have is not PTSD. A PTSD diagnosis does not preclude the concurrence of additional conditions that might be similar and/or could affect the way the VA reviews or assesses PTSD symptomatology. For example, a personality disorder is not on the list of acceptable mental health conditions, so the occurrence, even in combination with PTSD, could complicate the diagnosis and VA rating.
It might also be that a doctor doesn’t see the severity of your condition and labels it as something closer to anxiety, a depressive disorder, panic, fatigue, or something else. You may be experiencing hallucinations, loss of interest in what you love, and even feelings of guilt. Because you’re a unique individual, your symptoms will surely differ from that of your fellow soldiers. Your full diagnosis should not affect whether you’re eligible for VA disability. Simply work with us to see what you should apply for. If it isn’t PTSD, there are plenty of other qualifying conditions that we help veterans with.
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Next Step: Contact The PTSD VA Disability Lawyers at Woods & Woods
When you’re looking for an advocate who understands what you’ve been through, we are here. We will stand by your side and help you understand not only the law but also what the process is, what you’re entitled to and how you can fight for your VA Rating. We dedicate ourselves to your success as we focus on the best way to deliver the results that you need now.
We work with drone operators and other military personnel to get them fair benefits based on their trauma and medical diagnosis.
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Yes, though in lower percentages than pilots of manned aircraft and lower than infantry personnel. The PTSD symptoms often show up faster, however, because UAV pilots might drive 10 minutes after executing and operation and be home with their spouse and kids who have had the average day in the life of of a civilian. This abrubt change adds to the trauma of the aftermath of the mission.
There is no magic formula for any rating, but the VA publishes the conditions you would have to suffer to get a 70% PTSD rating. You would have to prove that you have occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, because of obsessional rituals, or near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively.