Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest weeks, months, or even years after a person has survived a traumatic event. While the trauma associated with combat has been well documented, non-combat PTSD does not always receive the recognition and validation it deserves compared to other serious injuries. Non-combat PTSD symptoms are often identical to combat service-related PTSD that occurs due to serving in a combat zone. Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and anger are some of the most common symptoms associated with non-combat PTSD.
Service Connection for Non-Combat PTSD
Veterans who suffer from one or more non-combat PTSD stressors must provide the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with credible supporting evidence that they developed this common mental health condition due to events they experienced while on active duty. They can submit anything from lay statements to medical evidence to newspaper articles and even testimonials from fellow veterans to prove that the event took place and that it had a traumatic effect on them.
VA Disability Ratings for PTSD
When a veteran submits a claim for VA disability benefits based on PTSD, a claims examiner reviews the evidence and decides whether the stressor event is combat or non-combat related. The claims examiner then assigns a disability rating between 0 and 100 percent at intervals of 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100. We provide a brief explanation of each level of disability associated with a diagnosis of PTSD below. If you want a more thorough look at PTSD ratings, click here.
- 0 percent: Although the veteran has received an official mental health diagnosis of PTSD, the VA claims examiner does not feel that symptoms are severe enough to interfere with social or occupational function. Veterans who receive this disability rating do not yet need to take any medication for their mental health condition, unlike other former service members.
- 10 percent: The veteran has mild symptoms of PTSD that can come and go. The PTSD symptoms may decrease efficiency at work when the veteran is under stress. Veterans with a 10 percent disability rating typically have their PTSD symptoms under control due to continuous use of medication.
- 30 percent: Veterans experience occasional impairment in work and social functions. At this level, most veterans with combat or non-combat PTSD can care for their daily needs. Common symptoms of this mental health condition at a 30 percent disability rating include chronic sleep impairment, panic attacks, anxiety, depressed mood, feelings of suspiciousness towards others, and/or mild memory impairment.
- 50 percent: Veterans claims at this level show demonstrated proof of social and occupational impairment due to symptoms that can include a flat affect, panic attacks occurring more than once per week, short-term and long-term memory impairment, difficulty with abstract thinking, lack of motivation, difficulty controlling moods, and/or challenges with maintaining satisfactory personal and professional relationships.
- 70 percent: When a veteran submits a PTSD claim that meets this threshold, the claims examiner has verified significant difficulty in most areas of life. These can include work, personal relationships, suicidal ideation, illogical speech, obsessive rituals, a near-continuous state of panic or depression, difficulty with self-care and independent functioning, lack of impulse control, neglect of personal hygiene, spatial disorientation, inability to cope with stress, and/or inability to maintain satisfying relationships with others.
- 100 percent: Claimants entitled to receive veterans benefits at a 100 percent disability rating have demonstrated total social and occupational impairment. Non-combat PTSD symptoms present as ongoing delusions, thought process disruptions, significant inappropriate behavior, real and present danger of harming themselves or others, inability to perform self-care or activities of daily living, time and place disorientation, and/or memory loss severe enough to not remember their own name or the names of close family members.
Non-Combat PTSD Stressors
Several types of events can occur during military service that can and have left active-duty personnel and veterans with significant trauma. Some common examples include:
- Military sexual trauma and PTSD
- Including sexual assault
- Ongoing exposure to death and violence and PTSD
- Survivor’s guilt
- Fear of hostile military
- And more…
Living through one or more of these service stressors is difficult enough for most veterans, but the process of being approved for VA disability benefits can bring back all of the trauma. They can feel like they are reliving the trauma all over again when they receive a denial of VA disability benefits due to a lack of credible supporting evidence. Having to present proof that PTSD developed in the military can be especially challenging for non-combat veterans when combat veterans do not need to furnish proof of a service connection.
Non-Combat PTSD from Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
The VA defines MST as:
- Using physical force to get a person to perform sexual acts against their will.
- A victim could not give consent to sexual activity due to illness, intoxication, being asleep, or another valid reason.
- Coercing a person into performing sexual activities against their will by threatening demotion, promising promotion, or other inappropriate actions.
- Unwanted touching or grabbing, whether the actions are sexually suggestive or not.
- Offensive remarks that are sexual in nature.
- Unwanted sexual advances that the victim perceived as threatening.
For more information on MST and PTSD claims, go here! The VA urges victims of MST to report it as soon as possible, whether it occurred on or off the base. The rank of the perpetrators and whether they were on duty at the time of the MST is irrelevant. The VA will provide resources such as counseling to MST victims in addition to considering their claim for non-combat PTSD.
PTSD from Witnessing Death
Veterans don’t have to have participated in active combat to feel traumatized at seeing someone else die. In fact, developing this mental disorder is a common response to such a troubling event. The VA can also provide mental health resources for veterans who have witnessed the death of others through terrorist activity, a plane crash, or other means. Veterans should be prepared to provide as much credible supporting evidence as possible to validate their trauma.
Combat PTSD Stressors
Although veterans do not have to provide evidence of combat PTSD stressors, it is helpful to know some of the most common ones. These include surviving an enemy ambush, surviving an IED, being present in combat when fellow soldiers died from such events, and/or a flight deck plane crash. People filing for a VA disability claim for combat PTSD will need to describe the event and when and where it occurred.
VA Form 21-0781
The purpose of VA Form 21-0781 is for veterans to provide as much detail as possible about a non-combat event that led to a diagnosis of PTSD. The VA requires more than the veteran’s word that a service stressor occurred that led to non-combat PTSD before it can assign a VA disability rating and remit monthly payments. This starts with completing VA Form 21-0781.
The form begins by asking the veteran to list the date, time, and description of the traumatic event. Unfortunately, this can be challenging for veterans who have forgotten details of the trauma as a means of survival. The good news is that the VA must assist veterans who struggle to complete this form. The Department of Veterans Affairs can also accept credible supporting evidence such as a buddy statement, lay statement, or additional input from medical professionals.
Help for VA PTSD Claims
Hill and Ponton, a disabled veteran’s law firm established in 1986, is available to assist veterans with either combat or non-combat PTSD. We understand that obtaining the required service records and filing a VA disability claim can be traumatic in itself which is why we are here to support veterans through each step. We invite veterans or their family members to complete a free case evaluation.
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