“My name is Zack Evans and I’m with Woods and Woods in Evansville, Indiana. Today we’re going to be talking about why it’s important for veterans to talk about mental health.”
Why should veterans talk about their mental health?
“It’s common for veterans to have mental health issues. The number of veterans receiving mental health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs increased 90% from the fiscal years 2006 to 2019.
“So, as it relates to VA claims, the first and most serious issue related to not talking about mental health is that you won’t receive service connection for mental health. Vets don’t want to discuss stressors a lot of the time, which are the things that led to their mental health onset. That’s understandable — some of them are extremely traumatic. Good examples of this would be combat experiences like accidents, crashes, or other types of mishaps while they were in the service.
“But if you don’t discuss these things, the VA will deny your claim or service connection for your mental health disorder due to an inability to corroborate what you say happened to you. You have to be able to open up about these things that have happened, otherwise, the VA will just put you on the hamster wheel of denials. We see that way too often, and the outcome of this is going to be zero compensation.”
Mental health conditions in veterans
“Mental health conditions are common in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S adults lives with a mental illness.
“Many people experience mental health problems, but veterans experience them at a higher rate. An estimated 31% of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition or reported experiencing a traumatic brain injury.
“Some of the most common mental disorders among veterans, as we just mentioned, are traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorders, and depression and anxiety disorders.”
Why don’t veterans discuss mental health conditions?
“The majority of veterans do not adequately report or communicate symptoms of mental illness. This means that the statistics discussed earlier may not represent the true prevalence of mental disorders among veterans and the average population. But that is because there’s a negative public perception of mental illness. Veterans think that their unit leadership might treat them differently if they report mental health issues while they’re in service. It could affect their commander’s view of their fitness to serve or to lead their comrades. Veterans also don’t want to be seen as weak.
“This is an outgrowth of the military culture that tries to ingrain strength and hardiness amongst its veterans. However, when you come home to civilian life, if you’re continuously pushing these issues below the surface, things are unlikely to get any better for you.
“Sometimes, what caused the trauma is stigmatized. A good example of this is military sexual trauma. These are very complex and sensitive issues for veterans that have suffered from these events. They’re difficult to discuss. It’s tough to unearth these memories and to discuss them, even with a professional who’s trained to handle these situations. It doesn’t surprise me at all when I see evidence of military sexual trauma in a veteran’s file, but there are no reports of this occurring during the time in which they served. It’s simply too raw and too difficult to deal with. It’s too fresh in their minds.
“Another issue that makes mental health so difficult to discuss for veterans is an overall mistrust of mental health professionals. In a study, 82.5% of diagnosed or at-risk veterans surveyed on the topic of opting into some form of treatment reported a fear of privacy and confidence-breaching, or the fear of being disbelieved.”
“The firm got me to 70%, and I was happy. Individual unemployability was awarded to me and to this day, I’m so grateful. My future is no longer bleak. These people work very hard for you.“
R.C., a Navy veteran in HawaiiFacebook review
TDIU and mental health conditions
“If you don’t talk about past work whenever you’re discussing your mental health problems, especially during a VA exam, the examiner will simply check a box that says: ‘No functional impact.’
“I can’t tell you how many cases I’ve seen of veterans with examinations full of severe symptoms, but there’s no work discussion. There’s no discussion about the problems they had when they were working on site as an electrician, or when they were doing some other type of construction work, or professional office work for an insurance company — there’s no discussion about any of those problems during any of those occupations. So, the examiner will check ‘no functional impact.’
“They may even give you an increase. Your mental health rating might go from 30% to 50%, percent, or maybe even 70%, and they’ll still check ‘no functional impact.’ That provides the VA regional office a cover for denying your TDIU benefits, so it’s very important that you always discuss your past jobs whenever you attend these exams, or to your own private mental health provider. Those records can be provided to the VA to open up the universe of possible evidence of everything the VA has to look at in order to rate you appropriately.
“I know we also have some videos we’ve done previously where we talk about how to prepare for C&P examinations. If you have a C&P examination coming up, or if you’re feeling a little bit fearful about the prospect of going to an exam and maybe that’s why you haven’t applied for benefits, I would encourage you to watch these videos. They can help settle your mind. They can give you a good lay of the land in terms of how the examination is going to be conducted and what you need to cover to make sure that you’re covering as much ground for yourself as possible.
“Another thing that’s important to discuss is any leaves of absence. If you were having a particularly tough time in your personal life, in your family, or maybe you needed to go to get inpatient alcohol treatment — if you had to take a leave of absence from work, that’s going to be relevant to your mental health condition, especially if your use of alcohol is related to the mental health condition that is service-connected.
“Another issue you want to bring up in discussion of past work is any recollection of disciplinary action by past employers. This is a multi-faceted issue. It’s not simply if you were in trouble at work all the time, but what that can do to a person that has diminished coping skills. Maybe you constantly felt under the gun, or you were in an unhealthy or toxic work environment. If you don’t discuss these symptoms and how they’ve manifested to make you feel like you’re under the gun with these past employers, we’re not going to be able to draw a line clearly from the diagnosis you have to the symptoms you’re dealing with to how that impacted you in your past work in your past jobs. That’s the kind of rationale or evidence that we’re looking to advance whenever we’re trying to win TDIU benefits based on your mental health condition.”
How Woods and Woods can help
“Every day, we speak to veterans about their mental health. We help veterans gain financial security when their mental conditions prevent them from doing what they could do otherwise.
“In order for veterans to get these benefits from the VA, they need to be open about their struggles. More importantly, we want veterans to strive for more than financial security. We want to encourage you to seek the quality of life you deserve. Veterans put their country before themselves, and that has a lasting impact. They deserve to live fulfilling lives. Seeking help financially and speaking with a medical professional can aid in this.”
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