The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

July 2004
Veterans Benefits Update
   
 

Claiming PTSD

BY LEONARD J. SELFON, DIRECTOR

It is inevitable that we are hearing quite a lot about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the news these days. It is also inevitable that we will be hearing even more about this psychiatric disorder in the near future. With troops from many countries engaged in the war against terrorism, it also becomes clear that PTSD is not a phenomenon unique to American service personnel.

PTSD is nothing new; it has been a feature of human conflict since the Stone Age. It has gone by different diagnoses throughout history, such as "shell shock,'' "war anxiety or neurosis,'' and "battle fatigue.'' The disorder was officially designated PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association after the Vietnam War. Although PTSD often is associated with Vietnam veterans, it appears in veterans of all wars and eras.

The essential feature of PTSD is the development of a defined set of symptoms following exposure to an extremely traumatic event (called a stressor) that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury. Stressors can also involve a threat to one's physical integrity; witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; learning about unexpected or violent death or serious harm; or the threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate.

The person's response to the event involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror. The classic resulting symptoms include a persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event; persistent avoidance of reminders associated with the trauma (called stimuli); emotional numbing; loss of sexual desire; increased anxiety; and hyper vigilance. To support a clinical diagnosis of PTSD, these symptoms must be present for more than one month.

PTSD is not limited to those who experience combat. Other recognized non-combat stressors include violent personal assault such as sexual assault, physical attack, robbery, or mugging, being kidnapped, being taken hostage, terrorist attack, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war or in a concentration camp, natural or manmade disasters, severe automobile accidents, or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Consequently, civilians in these circumstances endure PTSD as well. Witness the high volume of PTSD diagnoses in individuals who were in close proximity to the September 11 attacks.

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers treatment and disability compensation for individuals with PTSD. VA Vet Centers are open to all veterans for PTSD counseling. Veterans do not have to be service-connected for PTSD in order to use the Vet Centers. Other PTSD programs are available through the VA. You can call the VA at 800-827-1000 for more information or log on to the VA website, www.va.gov

Pursuing a claim for VA benefits for PTSD can range from fairly easy to fairly traumatic. VA regulations require the satisfaction of three elements in order to establish entitlement to service connection for PTSD. Essentially, these include medical evidence from a professional psychiatric clinician of a current, clear diagnosis of PTSD; medical evidence of a link between current PTSD symptoms and an in-service stressor; and credible supporting evidence that the claimed stressor actually occurred.

If the service records establish that the veteran engaged in combat and the claimed stressor is related to combat, the veteran's lay testimony alone can establish that the claimed stressor occurred. The same applies to stressors related to captivity where the evidence demonstrates that the veteran was a prisoner-of-war. If the claimed stressor is not related to combat, the veteran must prove its existence with documentary evidence, such as service medical or personnel records, unit records, morning reports, or buddy statements.

Having an experienced veterans' service representative handle a claim for PTSD is often invaluable for the veteran to prevail. For a listing of accredited VVA service representatives in your area, refer to our website, www.vva.org, go to "Veterans Benefits,'' then "Service Representatives,'' then the state in which you reside. VVA also has a self-help guide for PTSD claims on the "Veterans Benefits'' database under "Self-help Guides.''

Veterans and active-duty people suffering from PTSD should seek assistance as soon as possible. PTSD can be successfully treated with medication and counseling, but you and your friends and family must take the first step.
 

   

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