What is it and how it applies to claims.
PTSD criteria are the guidelines that the VA uses to diagnosis and establish if you have PTSD.
First, to be successful in a claim for PTSD benefits, you must prove two things to the VA;
1. You must have a diagnosis of PTSD, and
2. You must prove the stressor OR traumatic event that occurred in service that caused your PTSD.
Diagnosis of PTSD
Simply put, you must go to a doctor (preferably a psychiatrist or psychologist) and receive a diagnosis of PTSD to satisfy this criterion. For those veterans who see a VA doctor, please go to ROI (Release of Information) and request a copy of your VA psychology records and confirm that the VA doctor has diagnosed you with PTSD. I have seen many instances whereby a veteran comes in to our office and wants to file a claim for PTSD; when we check their VA medical records for a diagnosis we find out that the VA doctor has actually diagnosed them with anxiety, depression or adjustment disorder, NOT PTSD. Just because you are in a PTSD support group, seeing a “PTSD doctor” or taking medication, don’t assume you have been diagnosed with PTSD…confirm your diagnosis! If you have never seen a doctor and suspect you may have PTSD, do your homework and read up on PTSD on the internet, library or see your service officer. Inform yourself of what PTSD is and its symptoms. This will greatly improve your chances of getting the correct diagnosis and not just being labeled with “depression.”
If you see a civilian doctor, bring in a copy of your records to your service officer so that your diagnosis can be confirmed and that those records can be sent to the VA on your behalf. You can sign a “Release of Information” (VA Form 21-4142) to allow the VA to request a copy of your civilian records, BUT if your doctor never sends the copy or the VA never receives or files it to your folder, you may be denied benefits. It is in your best interest to get the records yourself and have your service officer submit them for you.
Stressor OR traumatic event
The new rule of July 2010 has changed this criteria. Prior to this you had to prove that a combat OR life threatening event occurred while you were in service that caused your PTSD. The VA rule change has relaxed this requirement – I explained that in my last post. Still, with that being said, if you received a combat medal – Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB), Combat Action Badge (CAB), Purple Heart (PH) or any other combat medal – this will satisfy the stressor requirement. BUT not every solider received a combat medal, even if they saw combat, due to the fact of human error and paperwork not being completed or lost. This does not mean you can’t prove your combat experience. Fill out a VA Form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for PTSD. This form is designed to tell the VA who, what, where, when and how you were involved in a combat or life threatening situation. The VA is then required to search records with the information you gave them to verify the information. Do not get emotional or personal in this form as you are simply trying to give VA information as to the what, when and where this incident occurred. Numerous claims have been denied sole because the veteran does NOT complete this. Don’t assume the VA with work to verify your stressor if you don’t give them the information to work with. Also, Google search the internet for your fellow service members who you were stationed with. Have them write you a “buddy letter.” The letter should have their full name, address, phone number, social security number, dates of service, location of where they were stationed with you an then have them simply state what happened. They must also sign their letter. Include in both your 21-0781 statement and your buddy letters any fellow soldiers names that were wounded or killed in action as we know accurate records were kept on these incidents and are easy to verify. Did you write or email home while in service? Did your family, spouse or others keep these letters? Statements made in those letters need to be submitted to the VA as they support your stressor.
This rule change on PTSD in new. No one knows for sure what the pitfalls may be with it yet and anyone that has dealt with the VA knows that it can be an uphill battle for benefits. If it were possible to prove my stressor, I would still do the leg work and complete all the necessary paperwork to do this – more is always better than less. In other words, error in your favor, not the VA’s.
Next week, PTSD criteria in regards to your Compensation and Pension Exam…..
Until then, enjoy your summer!
National Service Officer
Military Order of the Purple Heart