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What Do I Include In My PTSD Claim Letter?
What Do I Include In My PTSD Claim Letter?
PTSD: A Primer
Thousands of Veterans are diagnosed with PTSD each year. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most common psychological disabilities and impairments that Veterans struggle with. Numerous circumstances common to military service can lead to the development of the disorder. These factors include:
- Military sexual trauma (MST). Many Veterans with PTSD have endured some form of sexual abuse or personal assault. Military sexual assault is tragically underreported, due in part to the “blame the victim” mentality and the shame that many soldiers feel about sexual abuse or assault. However, MST is a major issue. The statistics show that an overwhelming majority of Veterans who were assaulted or abused while serving in the military have dealt with psychological issues as a result.
- Combat experiences. Serving on the frontlines can easily leave a soldier traumatized. Many Veterans had to witness the deaths of fellow soldiers and the killing of civilians or enemy troops. Witnessing death or taking a life yourself can lead to the development of PTSD, and memories of combat experiences can haunt a Veteran for decades after they leave active duty.
- Injuries. Many Veterans have sustained an injury, either in combat, due to an accident, or other factors. Being injured can be a traumatic experience, one that leaves many Veterans permanently affected. If a Veteran has a service-connected physical disability that has led to the development of PTSD symptoms, that Veteran may be able to receive additional VA disability compensation and disability benefits for PTSD.
PTSD’s Primary Symptoms
There are four main types of PTSD symptoms: reliving, arousal, negative thoughts and feelings, and avoidance.
- Reliving refers to flashbacks, nightmares, and insomnia caused by trauma. Many Veterans with PTSD have trouble sleeping and functioning at work due to the frequent onslaught of disturbing memories related to trauma.
- Arousal refers to the constant anxiety felt by many people living with PTSD. A traumatic experience can make a Veteran feel like something is always wrong, even if there is nothing to be concerned about.
- PTSD sufferers often experience negative thoughts and feelings. Many Veterans with PTSD feel self-blame, guilt, and shame around their condition. Some Veterans may blame themselves for the trauma they have, but this line of thinking is irrational. PTSD is not a weakness, but many Veterans feel weak and ashamed due to societal stigma.
- Avoidance refers to the habitual forsaking of relationships, responsibilities, places, and things that remind a person with PTSD of their trauma. For Veterans with PTSD, working and maintaining healthy relationships can become difficult due to self-imposed isolation to avoid reminders of the trauma.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are a Veteran of any branch of the Military, you may be able to qualify for tax-free disability compensation.
Writing A PTSD Claim Letter
The Department of Veterans Affairs now has a form for the “stressor letter” that Veterans commonly submit when applying for service connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A Veteran may substantiate his or her claim that he/she was involved in a traumatic event by filing VA Form 21-781. When you fill out this form, you will most likely need to submit a “ PTSD stressor statement,” which is a written account of the stressful events you experienced in the military that caused you to have a disability. Writing a stressor statement can itself be stressful because, in many cases, you’re being asked to recall — and record — events that you’d rather forget. This is true not only for service members who served in combat but also for Veterans who suffered Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
When you are writing your stressor letter, it is essential to include as many details as possible. Your military and medical records will help you pinpoint dates, times, and places. Your service records are only one possible source of information for your stressor statement. If you wrote letters to home, those could also serve as evidence of what took place.
Honesty Matters, And So Do The Details
One thing that you must do is tell the truth. You’re not expected to have a perfect memory. If you can’t recall something, don’t hesitate to say so. But do include as much detail as you can. Are there specific sights and sounds you can’t forget? If so, write about them.
Any information that is related to your traumatic experience should be included in your claim letter. Honesty and integrity are essential when writing your claim letter, so it is acceptable to be vaguer in areas where your memory is foggier. However, the specific details that you clearly remember should be emphasized in your claim letter. The VA will use this information to help verify the legitimacy of your disability claim. Without specifics, the VA will have a much harder time determining whether the cause of your trauma is verifiable and service-connected.
Providing A Timeframe
If you don’t remember precisely when something happened, do your best to give the VA an approximate timeframe. They’ll need it if it becomes necessary to verify your story by researching military records. If your traumatic experience is service-connected, you can assume that the incident occurred at some point during your time in the military. While this does not necessarily narrow down the timeframe for your stressor to a sufficient extent, it will help you know where to look for more details about your trauma.
You may be able to tie the stressor that led to the development of symptoms of PTSD to another occurrence in your life. Did it happen on or near a birthday? An anniversary? A holiday? A death? If so, you can use this event to determine a more precise timeframe for the cause of your service-connected trauma.
There’s no need to exaggerate or embellish. The facts are powerful enough. Let them speak for themselves. If you are unsure about your traumatic experience, honesty is the best way to approach your claim letter. Let the VA know that the details are foggy, but assure them that your trauma stems from an experience during your time in the military.
VA Form 21-0781A
The VA also has a Form 21-0781A, which is used for physical attacks and sexual assaults. These events do not have to occur on-duty or on a military base. Active-duty soldiers who were on leave or pass who were jumped and beaten or raped can be service connected for diagnosis of PTSD, even though the incident had nothing to do with military service. The key to filling out VA Form 21-0781A is providing as much detail as possible. Try to remember the date the event took place. Don’t just give a statement and hope the VA will believe you. Provide as much supporting documentation as possible.
When submitting a form related to military sexual trauma, it is normal to feel guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. However, it’s important to do your best not to let these emotions stop you from getting the compensation you need and deserve. Remember, PTSD is not a weakness, nor is it anything to be ashamed of. You can rest assured that you are making the right decision by filing a disability claim for PTSD, even if it is hard and painful to do.
Because the process of submitting a stressor letter may be incredibly emotional and difficult, some Veterans believe it is important to have a support system of family members, close friends, or a therapist to help you process reliving the traumatic events.
It is also necessary to keep in mind throughout this process that once you submit the letter and appropriate forms, you are one step closer to getting the help you need from the VA and moving forward with your life.
Veterans Serving Veterans
Are you receiving the Veterans’ disability compensation and VA benefits you are entitled to receive by law? If you need assistance or legal advice in appealing VA Rating Decisions for mental health conditions or physical disabilities that occurred in service, please contact Berry Law.
Click here to schedule a time to talk to a member of our team to determine if we can help you with your VA appeal. Your consultation will be completely free, and it will help us get a better sense of your situation and how we can serve you.
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.