PTSD and Depression in Veterans
Military veterans are vulnerable to a number of mental health conditions following service. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are two of the most common. Stressful events and traumatic experiences may contribute to these mental health conditions, and these conditions can affect a veteran’s ability to work and manage daily tasks.
Fortunately, veterans with PTSD and/or depression may be eligible for disability benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. This guide will outline the basics of these two conditions, as well as the rating schedule that the VA uses to determine compensation.
What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition that develops after experiencing a shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event. These events are often referred to as “stressors” or “traumas”.
During a traumatic event, the body responds by going into a “flight or fight” mode. Fight or flight mode is when the body is determining whether to run from a threat or fight against it. These incidents cause the body to release stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and adrenaline, which trigger a quick burst of energy, along with feelings of anxiety or panic. During this stress response, the heart rate increases, and memory may be negatively affected.
Essentially, PTSD causes the brain to get trapped in a “danger mode.” Even after someone is no longer in danger, the body remains on alert. Stress signals are continuously sent throughout your body, which leads to PTSD symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD is more than an anxiety disorder. The symptoms of this mental illness are often severe, affecting the individual’s daily life and relationships. Some common symptoms include:
- Flashbacks: re-experiencing of the traumatic experience that caused the PTSD
- Avoidance: any action intended to stop the occurrence of an uncomfortable emotion such as sadness, shame, or fear
- Nightmares: recurrent bad dreams related to the trauma
- Hypervigilance: being constantly on guard to detect any danger that may be present
- Hyperarousal: when a person’s body suddenly kicks into high alert as a result of thinking about their trauma
- Distress or Irritability: easily frustrated or angered; often feeling negative emotions
- Panic Attacks: sudden episodes of intense fear or apprehension
Trauma survivors can work with a mental health professional to receive a diagnosis and get the treatment they need. The National Center for PTSD had a database of health care providers who are available to help.
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes frequent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. This disorder is more than feeling down or a “case of the blues”. It is not something that someone can just “snap out of”. This is a very real mood disorder that may require different forms of treatment, such as therapy or medications.
Major Depressive Disorder can lead to severe symptoms that affect how one feels and thinks. This mental illness can also change the way one handles daily activities, such as keeping up with hygiene, sleeping, eating, or working.
Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms of major depression can vary, but individuals with this mental health condition often experience:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Increased restlessness and pacing, or slowing movements and speech
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Difficulty with concentration, focus, and memory
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide
It’s important to remember that veterans who are experiencing should get help from a mental health professional. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis Line are two resources that are available for veterans in crisis. If you are a loved one are struggling with mental illness, these resources can provide assistance.
Veterans can also seek therapy for PTSD and depression
Risk Factors & Comorbidity
Both PTSD and Depression tend to coexist with other medical conditions. Some of these other conditions include chronic pain, headaches, substance abuse disorders, and anxiety disorders. The two conditions often exist together within the veteran population. It has also been shown that PTSD can lead to Depression, and Depression can have symptoms similar to those of PTSD. So, you might be experiencing both PTSD and depression symptoms together.
Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event can suffer from PTSD. Military combat veterans, accident victims, people who have survived a natural disaster, sexual assault victims, and children who have been abused can all be subject to PTSD.
According to the VA, other factors in a combat situation can add more stress to an already stressful situation. This may contribute to PTSD and other mental health problems. These factors include your military duties, the politics around the war, where the war is fought, and the type of enemy you face.
Risk factors for depression include negative life events, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or loss of employment. Research shows that chronic stressors (such as illness, lack of social support, and numerous “daily hassles”) are also linked to a higher risk for depression. In fact, stress from adjusting to military life has also been known to cause depression.
How the VA Rates Mental Health
The VA rating for PTSD and depression is based on the rating schedule for mental health conditions. These conditions may include depression, PTSD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and more. The VA bases its ratings for mental illness on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), as well as the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale (GAF) scale. PTSD and Depression ratings follow these criteria.
|100%||Total occupational and social impairment||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.
|70%||Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood||Suicidal ideation; Obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; Speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; Near-continuous panic or depression; Impaired impulse control; Spatial disorientation; Neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; Difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances; Inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.|
|50%||Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity||Flattened affect; Circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; Panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory; Impaired judgment; Impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.|
|30%||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)||Depressed Mood, Anxiety, Suspiciousness, Panic attacks (weekly or less often), chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, or recent events).|
|10%||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||Symptoms controlled with medication. Symptoms only present during stress.|
|0%||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.||Symptoms controlled.|
Getting Help With Your Claim
If you or a family member have had a disability claim denied and are unable to work due to mental illness, the team at Hill & Ponton is here to help. Our experienced veterans’ disability lawyers can asses your case and help with your appeal. Contact us today to get started.