Matthew: Welcome to the Hill & Ponton video blog! I’m Mathew Hill and this is Carol Ponton. We’d like to talk to you today about service connecting PTSD. There’s a lot that goes into the Service Connected component for PTSD. We’re not going to touch on the rating. We just want to focus on how you get the VA to recognize that your PTSD is related to your service. There are two main ways to do this. You have what’s called Direct Service Connection and then Presumptive.
With Direct Service Connection, you have to show that something in service happened that you have a current diagnosis of PTSD and that incident in service – that stressor – caused your PTSD. For years, proving the stressor was the bane of Vietnam veterans’ existence, frankly. They weren’t able to show that their PTSD was related to service, so they could never prove their stressor.
The VA has taken that away now for fear of hostile military action or activity that helps all veterans who were in a war zone. That’s a presumptive way now. If you were in a war zone, then the VA can say that you had fear of military hostile activity and you do not have to show that you had a stressor. You don’t have to go prove a stressor.
Going back to Direct Service Connection, what does it mean to prove a stressor?
To prove a stressor, you have to have independent evidence of your own word. If you were hit by a car in a car accident and you have a police report showing that you were in the accident, that would be independent verification. If you got into a fight and you have a friend fill out a buddy statement that you were in the fight and it occurred and you got hurt, that would be verification. That’s how you show direct service connection.
Back to the presumptive. This has made combat veterans lives a lot easier in that they don’t have to go out and find a buddy or find an after-action report of what happened to them while they were in a battle.
Now what they have to do is just show that their PTSD, their mental illness, is related to that battle and is related to what happened in service.
Of course, there are road blocks on all of these. One of the road blocks I see is proving a stressor. I spoke about the car accident. If it was 30 years ago, it might be hard to find a police report and the people you were with you might no longer know or they may now be deceased. Those can all be problems in showing Direct Service Connection.
The theme or reoccurrence I keep seeing on veterans who were in a war zone where they have the presumption that a stressor happened, again and again I see where veterans either don’t meet the criteria for PTSD or diagnosed with something else, according to the VA.
Carol: The VA has a list of seven things that you have to show. There are seven different criteria. If you meet all except one, you don’t have PTSD, according to them. One of the problems is when the veteran goes in to have his compensation and pension exam, a lot of times we’re talking about the thing that may be bothering you the most right now and you may forget that you get angry without any reason.
You may forget that you are hypervigilant. You may not even think to tell the person, “I get up and check the locks,” or “When I go someplace, I have to sit with my back to the door.” You may forget that you can’t be around people or don’t have any emotional attachment or don’t have nightmares. There are so many things that each of these criteria address that you have to name one in each criteria in order to meet their diagnosis.
Matthew: And you’re not told what the criteria is. A lot of times, it’s even more deceiving than that. Most of the veterans we work with treat for their health care at the VA. We see veterans who are diagnosed by their own VA doctors with PTSD. Then for a compensation and pension exam, they go in and their doctor says, “No, you don’t have PTSD.” By their doctor, I mean the VA benefits section (the examiner).
Carol: This would be despite the fact that the veteran has complained of each one of these criteria to his own VA doctor.
Matthew: That is a big problem we’re seeing: veterans not meeting all the criteria. The VA benefits section always takes the word of the compensation doctor and not the VA treating doctor.
When you go to an exam for your PTSD, you have to realize you need to talk about everything that’s going on. You have to assume that the doctor you’re seeing is not going to give any weight to your treating doctors.
I just had a case where the veteran was denied Service Connection for PTSD and he was in a VA inpatient hospital for PTSD for 30 days, but the VA would not recognize that.
The other thing we see on that is the VA misdiagnosing the veteran or saying, “No, you don’t have PTSD. You have alcohol abuse,” or “You’re feigning your symptoms.” They like to use these tests that say, “The veteran is overreacting. He couldn’t have had this bad of an experience.” It’s a slap in the face to the veteran and it’s a big problem, because the VA says, “You’re now a malingerer.” That’s what they’re labeled with. And if the veteran didn’t have enough problems already dealing with the disability the government gave them, now they’re called a liar on top of it. It’s really pathetic a lot of times.
Carol: It’s very infuriating. You need to know that we can get beyond this. We see these cases all the time. Don’t leave it where it is. Please file an appeal. Please pursue this, because you’re entitled to these benefits. If you keep appealing and you get the evidence in the right way, you’re going to win. And you should win.
Matthew: That’s a great point. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up is it’s always easier for the VA to deny than to grant you benefits. One person can always deny you the benefits. To grant you benefits, sometimes it can take two or three people to actually all sign off on your benefits.
Keep appealing. Don’t just sit on the denial and think the government is right. You are entitled to these benefits.
Carol: Figure out what it is that made them deny you. Sometimes veterans just file an appeal and they don’t give the VA what they’re asking for. For instance, in this one case that I just reviewed, the veteran needed to talk about one of the A-F criteria. That’s what they were missing.
Matthew: In his defense, the VA doesn’t make it clear.
Carol: No, he didn’t know. That’s why if you know why you’ve been denied, it’s easier to win.
Matthew: This was our discussion on PTSD in Service Connection. Stay tuned! We will be doing a video soon on PTSD and Rating.