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Can the VA Reduce My PTSD Rating?
Can the VA Reduce My PTSD Rating?
PTSD is a significant issue among Veterans, and can qualify a Veteran for disability benefits, but unfortunately the VA can reduce your PTSD rating. To learn how the process works and how the VA can reduce your benefits, read on.
Are You Suffering From PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition that affects many Veterans. PTSD develops in the wake of a traumatic, life-altering experience. For a Veteran, intense combat experiences, service-related physical or sexual abuse, and brutal incidents can all lead to the onset of PTSD. When a Veteran has PTSD, they may experience extremely disturbing nightmares and flashbacks. These recollections can make Veterans feel like they are reliving their trauma.
Flashbacks and nightmares, along with the many other devastating symptoms of PTSD, can be crippling. The condition often has a significant negative impact on its sufferers and inhibits their ability to function fully. The VA recognizes PTSD in Veterans as grounds for receiving disability benefits due to the debilitating nature of the condition.
However, it’s important to remember that PTSD is not a weakness. Anyone can have PTSD after experiencing intense events, even if they’re not in the military. For many Veterans, the most stressful and challenging experiences in life come during their service, and the things many soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen witness are more than enough to leave even the strongest person traumatized.
If you are a Veteran suffering from symptoms that you suspect to be PTSD, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Experiencing the negative effects of trauma does not make you weak. It does, however, mean you may be eligible to receive benefits from the VA.
VA Disability Ratings: How They Work
When a Veteran is looking to receive disability benefits, the VA will assess the Veteran’s current condition and determine how much compensation they should receive to compensate. Any Veteran who is granted disability benefits from the VA is given a numeric disability rating between 0 and 100. The higher the rating, the higher your payment benefits from the VA will be.
Getting a 100% disability rating from the VA often requires a combination of multiple conditions related to your military service. If, for example, you have been diagnosed with both PTSD and depression and have a long-term physical injury as well, you have a much higher chance of reaching a 100% disability rating than if you only had one condition.
Another factor that can make you eligible to receive a 100% disability rating from the VA is qualifying for TDIU (Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability). If you have service-related disabilities that make it impossible for you to maintain a job, the VA is much more likely to grant you benefits at the level of a 100% disability rating.
How Accurate Are VA Disability Ratings?
Sadly, the disability ratings given to Veterans by the VA are not always accurate and many conditions, including PTSD, often have their severity incorrectly assessed by the VA. Mental health issues are particularly subjective and lead to inconsistent ratings by the VA. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, and other mental health issues experienced by Veterans are difficult for the VA to assess properly based on a few pieces of paper, and the raters at the VA are always on the lookout for exaggeration of symptoms.
Many Veterans with PTSD have received a much lower disability rating than they deserve, which is compounded by the fact that PTSD is a condition with symptoms that can worsen over time. As symptoms become more severe, you may need to have the VA re-evaluate your disability rating to get an updated rating. Many Veterans receive much lower benefits than their conditions warrant because they do not get a re-evaluation from the VA when their symptoms worsen.
How to Get Disability Benefits for PTSD
In order to receive disability benefits for PTSD, you first need to have a diagnosis. For the diagnosis, a mental health professional will administer an in-depth exam that will evaluate your symptoms, their origins, and the connection of your trauma to your military service. If this exam is conducted outside their system,, the VA will also evaluate you independently.
The symptoms related to PTSD are broad and far-reaching, spanning from the hallmarks – nightmares, flashbacks, and insomnia – to more physical symptoms, including physical reactions to triggers and moments of uncontrollable aggression or hostility. Without a PTSD diagnosis, you can suffer from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for years and not know their cause, or even blame yourself for behaviors outside of your control. Getting a professional diagnosis can help get you on the road to recovery and is also the first step towards receiving the disability benefits you deserve.
After a mental health professional has diagnosed you with PTSD, you can apply to receive disability benefits from the VA. The VA will then evaluate you to verify that your condition inhibits your ability to function normally and that your trauma is connected to your military service. At this point in the application process, several factors can influence the VA’s decision to give you disability benefits. The VA will take it seriously if they receive a written acknowledgement that your doctor assessed your military medical records and verifies that your symptoms are likely connected to traumatic experiences from your time serving. In addition, the VA will also pay attention to testimonials from people close to you who have seen the impact of your PTSD on your life.
Once the application process is complete, the VA will either rule to give you disability benefits for PTSD based on their determined rating percentage or deny your application. If you disagree with the disability rating assigned to you by the VA, or if they reject your application, you can make an appeal and potentially have your rating changed.
What to Do if The VA Refuses to Give You Benefits for PTSD
If the VA determines that you don’t have service-related PTSD, you can submit an IME (independent medical examination) and have it reviewed by the VA for further consideration. When you get an IME, your doctor will re-evaluate your condition and write a report that can convince the VA to change their ruling.
If an independent examination by your doctor does not change the VA’s decision to deny you benefits, you can appeal with the help of an attorney. Our team has decades of experience helping Veterans get the benefits they deserve. We’re a team built around Veterans helping other Veterans, and we specialize in making appeals for changes to PTSD rulings by the VA.
Can the VA Reduce a PTSD Rating Over Time?
The VA anticipates that Veterans suffering from certain conditions, including PTSD, will see improvements as time passes. If the VA thinks that your situation has improved, they may decrease your disability rating and, consequently, your benefits. VA disability payments are designed to help compensate for current limitations, so if the limitations are no longer applicable, the VA can take away the payments.
There are a few factors that can make it tough to maintain your disability rating. These factors may put you at greater risk of having your rating reevaluated and decreased by the VA:
- If your rating is below 100 and has been in place for under five years, the VA labels your rating unprotected. Unprotected ratings are easier for the VA to decrease. Stabilized ratings, ratings that have remained the same for over five years, are tougher for the VA to change.
- While decreases are based on the impact of the condition on your life, you may be at a disadvantage if you haven’t built a strong case file to support all impacts of your condition. Improvement in one aspect (e.g. sleep) may still not allow you to function as well as if you didn’t have PTSD. You can work with a doctor or an attorney to make sure your case is as solid as possible, and possibly even increase your disability rating.
- If you stop going to routine doctor’s appointments, the VA may be able to make a stronger case that you no longer need treatment for your PTSD. To keep your rating, stick with your treatment, even if you think you have recovered. PTSD symptoms can wax and wane over time, and long-term treatment in the form of therapy and medication can be extremely helpful even as symptoms decrease. Continue working with your medical provider – they have likely seen how cases like yours evolve over time. There is no reason to put your benefits at risk by stopping treatment on your own.
How to Keep Your PTSD Rating
To reduce the chances of the VA decreasing your PTSD rating, make sure to stay consistent with your treatment. The most effective current treatments for most PTSD cases are selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and therapy. Medication can help you deal with your symptoms so that you can continue to live a happy and fulfilled life. Meanwhile, therapy gives you a safe environment to process your trauma and move towards long-term recovery.
If you feel that your disability rating is too low, we can help. We have decades of experience helping Veterans with PTSD increase their disability ratings and get the benefits they deserve. We can help you put together a strong case to present to the VA to get an increased rating.
While the regulations employed by the VA often feel like a hindrance to a Veteran looking to get the benefits they need, our attorneys know how to make these rules and guidelines beneficial rather than harmful to Veterans. We can help you get your rating to accurately reflect your condition. Let us focus on the legal battle so you can continue your recovery with the support that you need and deserve.
Established in 1965 by Vietnam War veteran and attorney John Stevens Berry Sr., Berry Law Firm is a team of veterans dedicated to defending, safeguarding, and fighting to protect the rights of veterans. Over the decades, thousands of veterans from across the country and all branches of the military have trusted our firm with their cases and, more importantly, their futures.