What to Expect From Your C&P Exam for Veterans with PTSD
What Is PTSD? The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) describes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental health problem sometimes developed after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, such as: Military combat, A natural disaster, A car accident, or Sexual assault. When a veteran files a VA claim to receive disability benefits for PTSD, the VA requires you to complete a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam. The VA disability attorneys at Gerling Law are committed to getting you the compensation you deserve. You fought for our country, now let Gerling Law fight for you. What Does the C&P Exam Do? The C&P exam, sometimes called the VA’s PTSD test, verifies that the veteran has PTSD, even if he or she has already received a PTSD diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. Additionally, the C&P determines whether the PTSD is service-related and the severity of the condition. Service-related means that the veteran’s PTSD was either: Directly caused by military service; Occurred while in the military; Aggravated by military service; or Caused by conditions that are service-related. In order to receive disability benefits for PTSD, the VA requires that the condition be service-related. Additionally, the VA requires veterans to prove the following: The stressor(s) occurred during your military service; You cannot function as well as you once could due to your PTSD symptoms; and You have been diagnosed with PTSD by a qualified medical professional. Many veterans face difficulty proving when and where their stressor occurred. This is especially difficult when veterans have multiple stressors. Some events, like the death of a fellow soldier, could be well documented through medical reports and obituaries. But other stressors present proof challenges due to the lack of documentation of the incident. In some cases, the VA needs an independent verification that the stressor occurred, outside of the veteran’s statements. Who Administers C&P Exams? In most cases, the VA provides psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals to administer the exam. The administrator has access to the veteran’s medical records, recorded statements, treatment notes, and any other information relevant to the veteran’s disability claim. A failure to thoroughly review a veteran’s claims file could warrant challenging the results of the C&P exam, if necessary. How Does the C&P Exam Determine Whether a Veteran has PTSD? The VA assigns veterans with a disability rating based on the severity of his or her disability in order to compensate the veteran for the loss of productivity in the workplace. The more a disability interferes with the veteran’s ability to work, the higher the disability rating assigned to the veteran. Higher disability ratings translate to larger disability payments. Disability Rating The VA rating formula ranges from zero percent to 100 percent in increments of 10. The VA assigns disability ratings based on the results of your C&P exam. The VA examiners use statutes that outline the disability levels to determine the level applicable to you. 0% Disability Rating A zero percent disability rating means that the veteran has been formally diagnosed with PTSD, but the symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with occupational and social functioning or to require continuous medication. The VA does not offer disability compensation to veterans with a 0% disability rating. 30% Disability Rating A 30% disability rating occurs most commonly with VA disability claims. At this level, the veteran displays occupational and social impairment with an occasional decrease in efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform job tasks. Symptoms associated with this rating include: Intermittent depression; Panic attacks; Chronic sleep issues; Mild memory loss; Feelings of suspiciousness; and Anxiety. The symptoms described for a 30% PTSD rating aim to indicate veterans with mild cases of PTSD. 50% Disability Rating With a 50% disability rating, the veteran displays occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity. Symptoms associated with this rating include: Circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; Regular panic attacks; Short and long term memory loss; Inability to understand complex commands; Impaired judgment; Issues with motivation and mood; Flattened affect; and Inability to form and maintain effective work and social relationships. Compared to the symptoms described for a 30% PTSD rating, 50% rating symptoms occur more frequently and last longer. 70% Disability Rating Veterans assigned a 70% disability rating experience PTSD that causes significant levels of impairment in multiple facets of life, both occupationally and socially. The 70% disability rating appears one step below the highest disability rating for PTSD. Symptoms associated with this rating include: Suicidal ideations; Obsessive rituals that interfere with routine activities; Illogical, obscure, or irrelevant speech; Near-continuous panic or depression; Lack of impulse control; Spatial disorientation; Neglecting personal appearance and hygiene; Inability to work in stressful situations; and Inability to form or maintain effective relationships. The 70% disability rating criteria represent the widest array of symptoms and reflects a progression of the symptoms described by earlier disability ratings. 100% Disability Rating A 100% disability rating requires the veteran’s PTSD symptoms to be so severe that he or she is unable to function in everyday life. The symptoms associated with a 100% disability rating include: Gross impairment in thought processes or communications; Persistent delusions or hallucinations; Grossly inappropriate behavior; Persistent danger of harming self or others; Intermittent inability to perform tasks of daily living; Disorientation to time or place; and Inability to remember the name of self or close relatives. This disability rating represents a total impairment when it comes to your work and personal life. Veterans assigned a 100% disability rating to receive the maximum amount of disability compensation available. What Should I Do Before a C&P Exam? First of all, do not skip your C&P exam as that could result in the denial of your disability claim. Before your exam, you should document the most persistent, severe symptoms associated with your PTSD. You should note any symptoms you believe are associated with your PTSD, even embarrassing ones. Many people get nervous before taking a test or are unsure of what to say at a PTSD exam, causing […] Read More
MST PTSD: Everything Veterans Need to Know
Many people are familiar with the term “sexual trauma.” However, there is a specific type of trauma referred to as military sexual trauma that is less known but nevertheless affects countless individuals each year. Unfortunately, military sexual trauma (MST) occurs with devastating regularity within the armed forces. MST refers to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and threats of such acts that veterans experience in the course of their military service. In some cases, MST can even trigger posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are experiencing MST PTSD, know that you are not alone. While nothing can undo the pain and trauma that you have experienced, there are things you can do to help on the pathway toward recovery. While not offered for MST alone, veterans suffering from PTSD caused by MST may be eligible for disability compensation. The disability attorneys at Gerling Law are zealous advocates for veterans and their rights. Give our team a call today to discuss your rights and see how we can help you get the VA disability pay you deserve. What Is MST? So, exactly what is MST(military sexual trauma)? The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines MST as any sexual activity that occurs during military service where a veteran was involved in sexual activity against their will. Common examples of MST include: Being pressured into sexual activities through threats or implied or overt promises of better treatment; Situations in which the veteran was unable to provide consent due to intoxication or unconsciousness; Sexual activities accomplished through physical force; Hazing experiences involving unwanted sexual touching, grabbing, or other unwelcome acts; Offensive sexual remarks that the target perceives as threatening; and Unwelcome sexual advances that the MST victim perceives as threatening. Importantly, to constitute military sexual trauma, the target of the sexual activity has to be a veteran. However, the individual inflicting the sexual act, attempting the sexual act, or making the sexual remark does not have to be a veteran. Furthermore, whether the harassment or assault occurred on or off base, or while the victim was on or off duty, is not relevant. There are many other ways in which military sexual trauma may present itself. If you have questions about whether you might be a victim of MST, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Gerling Law to discuss your situation and see how we may be able to help. How Often Is MST Reported? Unfortunately, when MST occurs, it is not always reported. The VA implements a national screening program for any veteran receiving medical care to obtain data on the experiences of veterans as a whole. Data from the national screening program indicated that 1 in 3 women reported experiencing MST, while 1 in 50 men reported experiencing MST. The number of veterans who actually report the MST is much lower. Additionally, while women report an overwhelming majority of MST cases, men can and do experience MST PTSD arising out of their military service as well. MST-Related PTSD Understandably, MST often results in PTSD for victims. However, the existence of MST does not automatically result in the victim suffering from PTSD. The VA does not provide benefits to MST victims, specifically. Rather, the VA does offer benefits for veterans with PTSD, which can be caused by MST. Symptoms associated with PTSD that can occur after an MST include: Disturbing nightmares or memories about the event; Chronic anxiety; A desire to avoid people; Inability to feel safe; Feelings of depression; Feelings of isolation; Sleeping problems; A sudden fear of individuals of the same gender as the assailant; or Physical health problems. MST-related PTSD claims require two main elements. The first element requires credible evidence establishing that a trauma-inducing event, such as MST, occurred during your military service. The second element requires a connection between the event and the resulting symptoms of trauma. If you suffer from PTSD and believe it was caused by military sexual trauma, you may have a potential claim to receive disability benefits. Give Gerling Law a call today to discuss the particular circumstances surrounding your case. Credible Evidence and Connection Requirements Despite the requirement of credible evidence that the MST occurred, the VA understands that many instances of MST are not reported at the time the trauma occurred. Thus, victims can provide “markers” or circumstantial evidence of the veteran’s emotional reaction to the MST. Common markers used to demonstrate the existence of MST include: Law enforcement reports; Reports from mental health counselors or rape crisis centers; Medical records at or near the time of the MST; Statements from individuals familiar with the victim with knowledge of the MST; Journals or personal diaries of the victim; Military personnel records demonstrating a decline in behavior or performance after the MST occurred; and Medical records showing irregularities or signs of mental health issues. After establishing the occurrence of the MST, you will also need documentary evidence from a medical or mental health professional indicating that your PTSD was caused or aggravated by the MST. Gathering this documentation and information on your own can feel stressful and overwhelming. An experienced disability attorney can help you find and collect the materials you need to make the best case possible for your disability claim. MST-Related PTSD C&P Exam After you establish the credible evidence and connection requirements, the VA will likely order a Compensation and Pension examination (C&P exam). The C&P exam determines whether you meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis and whether your MST actually caused your PTSD. How Can I Prepare for a C&P Exam? One important thing to remember is that you should not skip your scheduled C&P exam. Doing so could result in a denial of your disability claim entirely. Many professionals recommend taking a comprehensive list of the PTSD symptoms you regularly experience with you to your C&P exam. This is because many times, veterans forget the primary issues inflicted by their PTSD during the exam. However, having a list of your most debilitating symptoms can help avoid this […] Read More
Are TDIU Ratings Permanent?
Total Disability based on Individually Unemployable (TDIU) benefits is essential for service members injured while on duty or who suffer from a service-connected disability. Your status as an injured veteran entitles you to these benefits if you cannot work. However, the Veterans Affairs (VA) might not be on your side and may fight against you. You’ve served heroically and you should receive your TDIU benefits for your service-connected disability permanently. At Gerling Law, our nationwide veterans’ disability lawyers are ready to help you get the disability pay you deserve—for the rest of your life. We vow to be with you and your family every step of the way. Why? Because you fought for us, so now we are honored to fight for you. What Is TDIU? The VA will compensate you for your service-connected disability if you can no longer work. The VA refers to this benefit as TDIU. This is an important program for many veterans with service-connected disabilities that fall short of a 100% total permanent disability rating by the VA. A rating of 100% disability means that the veteran has one or more total and permanent disabilities related to their military service. However, it is important to note that a veteran who qualifies for TDIU can receive 100% disability benefits even though they do not have a 100% disability rating. Also, TDIU benefits are permanent unless the VA rules that there is a chance your condition may improve. You will know if the VA believes you are permanently disabled if they indicate that they do not plan to ask you to submit to a status exam. However, if the benefits you receive from the VA contain language that they will schedule future exams, then the VA has ruled you are not totally and permanently disabled. Of course, the VA can choose to bring you in at any time for an exam when you are on TDIU benefits. Making Your TDIU Benefits Permanent You have the right to ask the VA to make your TDIU benefits permanent. First, you should submit an updated VA Employment Questionnaire annually. You should do this even if the VA does not send you a reminder each year. Failing to do so could cause the VA to reduce your disability rating. Secondly, writing a letter to your regional VA office requesting a permanent disability rating is appropriate. Your TDIU lawyer from Gerling Law will write this for you. They will assemble the necessary medical records and doctors’ opinions about your permanent disability and advocate for you. What Benefits Are Available Under TDIU? Under the TDIU program, you will receive health care and financial compensation. As a veteran, you receive all of your healthcare through the VA. However, your spouse and children are eligible for ChampVA healthcare benefits. You and your family might also be eligible for additional benefits such as schooling and housing. Who Is Eligible for TDIU? Under the VA’s TDIU benefits program, you may be eligible for disability benefits if: You have one service-connected disability rated by the VA of at least 60% disability, or You have two or more service-connected disabilities and one of those is at least 40% disabling and your total disability is at least 70%. However, the VA will not give you TDIU benefits unless you show that you cannot keep a job the VA calls “substantially gainful employment.” What Is Substantially Gainful Employment According to the VA? The VA considers substantially gainful employment as work that a non-disabled person would take to earn a livelihood. That means the employment provides earnings that are commonplace in the community where the veteran lives. Since the standard of living changes regionally, the meaning of substantially gainful employment is not uniform across the country. Notwithstanding, the VA could use the federal poverty level as the basis for defining substantially gainful employment. In 2021, the federal poverty threshold is $12,880 for someone living alone. That’s not a lot of money at all. The VA might not take your word that you are unemployable—meaning that the job that you have or any job you could get meets the definition of substantially gainful employment. The VA will examine several factors to determine if you are unemployable. Those factors are: Inability to perform household duties without substantial help; Evidence of progression of disabling conditions, coupled with age; Reaching mandatory or optional retirement age and whether attaining that age might prevent the veteran from finding other work; and Cognitive, character, or behavioral disorders that render the veteran unemployable. You should note that losing a job because you were sent to jail for a crime caused by a mental or emotional disorder does not qualify you as unemployable. Working and Getting TDIU If you work but make less than the federal poverty threshold, then the VA might consider you to have “marginal employment.” The VA will allow you to keep a job they classify as marginal employment and give you full benefits. Also, if you work in a protected environment, then you can keep your benefits. Working in a protected environment means working at a family business or having employment with special accommodations. Essentially, a protected environment means you work at a job you cannot get fired from. The VA will give you your TDIU benefits even if your income is greater than the federal poverty threshold if you work in a protected environment. Applying for TDIU Benefits The VA allows you to file for TDIU through their online portal, in person, or by mail. You have one year to complete your application once you start it. The VA will deny your application if you started it online but do not file it within 365 days. Although the VA says you do not need to file supporting documents, they recommend that you file as much evidence as you can to support your claim. This will decrease processing time. There is another reason why you should present as much evidence as possible with your application. Without supporting […] Read More