When it comes to veterans disability benefits for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many people are unsure of how the two conditions are related, or which condition is worse. Combat veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan are at an increased risk for developing PTSD and TBI comorbidities or deficits from those conditions because of the increased use of IEDs. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to understanding the differences between TBI and PTSD, as well as how to claim both conditions for service-connected disability benefits from the VA.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health stressor that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Common symptoms of PTSD include depressive symptoms, flashbacks, recurring memory of the event, nightmares, anxiety, and depression. While PTSD can be debilitating, it is important to note that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop the condition.
How is PTSD Rated?
The VA rates PTSD for service-connected disability benefits using 38 CFR § 4.130 Diagnostic Code 9411. PTSD is rated on a scale from 0% to 100%, with higher ratings indicating more severe symptoms.
A veteran cannot be rated for more than one mental health condition like PTSD and depression, or PTSD and anxiety. The VA should be considering the most severe symptoms for your VA disability. To receive service-connected benefits for PTSD, a veteran must have a current diagnosis of PTSD from a qualified mental health professional (VA C&P Exam can help you here), as well as evidence that the symptoms began during active military service or within one year of discharge.
Common PTSD Symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares
- Avoiding people, places, or things associated with the trauma
- Negative changes in mood and thinking, such as feeling isolated, hopeless, or detached from others
- Hypervigilance and being easily startled
What is TBI?
TBI is a type of brain injury that can occur after a person experiences a severe head injury like a blow to the head or exposure to an explosive blast. TBI can also result from a fall, motor vehicle accidents, or any other type of physical trauma. Common symptoms of TBI include neurological issues like headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making. TBIs are also sometimes referred to as concussions.
How VA Rates TBI
The VA rates TBI for service-connected disability benefits using 38 CFR § 4.124a, Diagnostic Code 8045 for residuals of traumatic brain injury. There may also be other diagnostic codes used on a case-by-case basis for more appropriate residuals. TBI is rated on a 0% to 100% scale, with higher ratings indicating more severe symptoms.
To receive service-connected benefits for TBI, a veteran must have a current diagnosis of TBI from a qualified medical professional, as well as evidence that the symptoms began during active military service or within one year of discharge.
Common TBI Symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Substance abuse
- Psychiatric disorders
- Sleep disturbances
- Reduced cognitive functioning
- Problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making
Common Symptoms Compared Between TBI vs. PTSD
It is not uncommon for veterans to experience both TBI and PTSD. In fact, research has shown that exposure to a blast can increase a person’s risk of developing postconcussive symptoms, psychological trauma, and impairments from PTSD. For many veterans, the symptoms of TBI and PTSD can be so similar that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two conditions. Some overlapping symptoms between these two medical conditions include:
- Memory problems, concentration issues, and decision-making dysfunction
- Anxiety disorder
- Loss of consciousness
While both conditions can coexist and be debilitating, it is important to note that each condition is unique and requires different treatments. Therefore, it is important to see a qualified medical professional.
Claiming TBI and PTSD for Benefits
Service members might face potential difficulties in claiming both TBI and PTSD for benefits. One such difficulty may be that the veteran has a difficult time proving that their condition is service-connected.
This may be due to the fact that many veterans do not immediately seek medical treatment from a health care professional after experiencing a traumatic event. Additionally, veterans may suffer mild TBI and PTSD symptoms. Mild traumatic brain injury and PTSD symptoms can often be subtle and may not be noticed until months or even years after the traumatic event occurred. If you think you or your loved one are suffering from an mtbi, seek Neuropsychol help immediately.
Another difficulty in claiming benefits for both TBI and PTSD can be that the veteran’s condition does not meet the required diagnostic codes. In order to qualify for service-connected disability benefits, a veteran’s medical condition must have a prevalence of risk factors and meet certain diagnostic criteria outlined in the VA’s regulations like we mentioned earlier.
Potential TBI patients can undergo post-deployment neuroimaging and neuropsychological tests to determine the severity and effects of their TBI. Make sure to be on the lookout for Postconcussive Syndrom, otherwise known as pcs and seek a Psychol clinician’s help immediately.
VA SMC(t) for TBI
There is also Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) available for veterans with service-connected TBI. This benefit provides additional financial compensation to those veterans who are unable to work due to their TBI. The amount of SMC a veteran receives depends on the severity of their symptoms. SMC-t is available to military veterans with severe TBI who are unable to live independently or who require someone else to help care for them due to their TBI. Another thing about SMC-t is that it is not available to veterans who are receiving benefits under the VA’s Individual Unemployability program.
PTSD and or TBI Claim Denied?
If you are a veteran suffering from TBI and/or PTSD, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the VA. OEF and OIF veterans should seek an evaluation immediately due to their increased exposure to IEDs.
Remember, in order to qualify for these benefits, you must have a current diagnosis of TBI or PTSD as well as evidence that the symptoms began during active military service or within one year of discharge, and you must establish a nexus between your time in service and your TBI or PTSD. If you or a loved one would like to learn more about how TBIs and PTSD affect a person’s life, check out the American Psychiatric Association for helpful research and articles.
If your claim for benefits has been denied, don’t give up. The VA denies many valid claims every year. You may want to consider speaking with a veteran’s disability attorney who can help you navigate the appeals process and get the benefits you deserve.
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