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Can Non-Combat Veterans Get Service Connected for PTSD?

Can Non-Combat Veterans Get Service Connected for PTSD?

PTSD is a common disorder that many Veterans struggle with. Some forms are more extreme than others, but all cases of PTSD deserve proper care and attention.

Applying for benefits for your PTSD can be a long, complicated process. The best way to tackle the VA process is knowing ahead of time what to expect and having help along the way.

Many Veterans have PTSD but never experienced any combat. Because of this, some wonder whether or not they can get a service connection for their PTSD. In reality, PTSD is not just a combat-related disorder. This article will go over what is required to get a service connection for your PTSD and how you can get the benefits you deserve.

The One Thing You Need in a Non-Combat Claim for PTSD

Veterans seeking VA compensation for non-combat forms of PTSD must provide more evidence than other kinds of claims: You will need extra proof to show that the traumatic event during service actually happened to you.

It is not enough just to say that the event occurred. You have to prove, with more than just your own statements, that you directly experienced a traumatic event in service.

The corroborating evidence you need can come from official reports, service medical records, news articles, statements from other witnesses (also called “buddy statements”), or anything else you can think of to prove that you had a traumatic event during your military service. In addition, if you can’t find the evidence yourself, but can provide the approximate date and location of a traumatic event, VA has a legal duty to search DOD records for official documentation of the event.

For example, say a Veteran is applying for benefits for non-combat PTSD, and the stressor event was the death of a buddy during training. They have to prove that the buddy died, that they witnessed the death or were otherwise particularly affected by it, and that their buddy’s death was the cause of their PTSD. The Veteran could hear a statement from somebody else who was in training with them saying, “Yes, this buddy died in a training accident and the Veteran saw it.” Or the Veteran could submit enough information (approximate month and year and the location) to force VA to research service records for documentation of the buddy’s death.

If the claim misses this crucial evidence, it will be denied by the VA. PTSD claims are commonly denied for this reason. Thus, it is crucial to know what evidence you need and gather it accordingly.

What Do You Need To Know When Applying for PTSD Benefits?

The VA uses special rules when going over applications for PTSD distinct from how they operate for applications for other service-connected conditions. These special rules can make getting the rating you deserve more difficult.

When you apply for PTSD compensation, the main requirement is to show that your condition is service-connected. If you cannot prove this, the VA will deny your claim. 

Your claim will have to contain a few things to prove service connection. 

  • For one, your PTSD must be clinically diagnosed under the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). (But if it’s not yet diagnosed, file a claim explaining your symptoms and in most cases VA will provide you with an examination to identify your diagnosed disability.)
  • Second, there must be proof of an in-service stressor: an event, situation, or injury that caused your PTSD. 
  • Finally, there must be medical evidence of a link between the in-service stressor and the current PTSD diagnosis.

Many times, extra evidence will be required to prove your claim further. This can either be from service or personnel records or witness statements. Sometimes, the extra proof is not needed (for example, if you are a combat veteran, feared hostile military or terrorist threats, or were a prisoner of war). However, if you have any extra documentation that would help make your claim more convincing, then it is best to include it with your claim just in case.

Determining the Stressor

Getting the rating you deserve for PTSD can be more difficult than for other conditions. This is particularly true for non-combat PTSD. 

This is not to downplay the trauma that the Veteran experienced. Rather, the VA usually denies these claims due to a lack of evidence. It can be difficult for Veterans to find the evidence they need to prove their claim, but it’s important to gather everything you can because VA rules and regulations require certain levels of proof to grant a claim.

Your evidence needs to show what stressor caused the PTSD. These events can range from witnessing death, being in a particularly dangerous situation, experiencing physical or sexual assault, or any other traumatic experience.

What Is the Rating System for PTSD?

Once you gather the proof you need for your claim and it is granted, you will be given a certain rating that determines the benefits you will receive.

VA rates service-connected PTSD as 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100 percent disabling depending on the severity of your symptoms.

While the 0 percent rating recognizes that the Veteran has PTSD, it also means that the VA did not find the evidence showing that the PTSD is severe enough to interfere with the person’s life. Therefore, no benefits come with this rating.

The highest rating that a Veteran can receive is 100 percent. This means that the Veteran will receive the full benefits since the VA believes that the Veteran’s symptoms are that severe.

The level of social and occupational impairment that your PTSD causes will determine the rating you receive. So when you file your initial claim or if you’re seeing an increased rating, be sure to discuss how your symptoms interfere with your ability to work or to maintain positive social relationships.

Do Combat-Related PTSD and Non-Combat PTSD Share the Same Symptoms?

Are the symptoms for combat-related PTSD and non-combat PTSD the same? Maybe and maybe not. Although combat situations are unique in the types of trauma veterans may experience, there are many other traumatic events a servicemember might face. No matter the cause of a veteran’s trauma, they deserve compensation for their symptoms.

Common symptoms of PTSD, no matter the underlying cause, can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, bad temper, suicidal ideation (whether passive or making any attempts), constant exaggerated negative thinking, difficulty trusting others, excessive guilt or shame, nightmares, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and many more. It can look different for everyone.

Can I Appeal a Rating Decision Made by the VA?

Sometimes, Veterans get the results of their claims, only to find out that they did not get the rating they were hoping for. Even though a claim may not have been completely denied, the Veteran is not getting the benefits they need.

In these situations, you can appeal the VA’s decision and seek a higher rating for your already proved service-connected disability. There are a few ways to go about this. 

First, the Veteran can ask that someone from a higher level in the VA go over the evidence they already have. This is helpful if someone less experienced overlooked important evidence in their first review. 

Second, the Veteran can file a supplemental claim with extra evidence. Sometimes the VA makes its decision due to a lack of evidence, so you will have to submit more evidence to get an increased rating. In this scenario, you will have to think through other sources that you can pull from to make your claim more convincing. 

Finally, you can appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals and go through its appeal process if you feel that the other two options won’t be successful.

If and when you decide to appeal, it is best to have an attorney who is familiar with what the VA requires and expects. This will ensure that you have everything you need to make a convincing appeal and get the benefits you need.

Conclusion

PTSD is a serious disorder that affects the lives of many Veterans. Even for those who did not experience combat, PTSD is still prevalent.

If you show symptoms of PTSD, it is best not to wait. If Veterans take too long to get their PTSD diagnosed, it could lead to worse symptoms and outcomes. When you’re ready to seek not just care but also compensation for your PTSD, the best thing to do is to reach out to an experienced attorney that can help you gather the evidence you need and make a convincing claim so that you can receive benefits for your service-connected disability.

For any more information or questions that you may have regarding VA claims, visit our website.

Sources:

PTSD networks of veterans with combat versus non-combat types of index trauma | NCBI

What Is PTSD? | American Psychiatric Association 

Posttraumatic stress disorder: from diagnosis to prevention | NCBI 

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law Firm are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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