PTSD is a widespread psychiatric condition experienced by many military members. While everyone believes that infantry Veterans and those who see personal combat can acquire PTSD because of their experiences, the reality is more complicated for pilots and aviators.
Indeed, many Veterans themselves question whether USAF pilots can experience PTSD or if they cannot acquire this condition because of their vantage points and responsibilities.
Today, we’ll explore PTSD, VA disability benefits for PTSD, and how to get compensation for your condition if you are a military pilot.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs when an individual experiences one or more traumatic events called “stressors.”
One or more stressors leave permanent imprints on the individual’s mind, causing them to experience symptoms including but not limited to:
Many US military Veterans experience PTSD as a direct result of the things they see and do while in the military.
For example, a Veteran may develop PTSD if they see a fellow servicemember die in the line of duty. They may experience nightmares and flashbacks of the event for months after the fact.
PTSD requires medication and therapy to be treated in many cases. If left unchecked, PTSD can be debilitating or disabling by preventing victims from functioning properly in social or workplace situations.
The core causes and aggravators of PTSD are always traumatic stressor events. However, these stressor events can vary heavily from person to person. What constitutes a stressor event for one individual may not be enough to trigger PTSD in another. Any military member can develop PTSD because of their military duty, regardless of their position.
Military aviators in all branches and who fly each different aircraft type can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD does not discriminate, and every person is different.
Some individuals might be able to see another person die without developing PTSD or similar mental health issues. Others may see a person die from afar and develop PTSD. With psychiatric conditions like PTSD, many things are relative – but all of these Veterans deserve support from loved ones and their fellow servicemembers.
Pilots may develop PTSD from:
Flying military aircraft can be highly stressful and scary, even for trained personnel. Therefore, no one should assume that pilots cannot get PTSD because they are not “boots on the ground” infantry soldiers.
Active duty airmen and women in the US Air Force (as well as other aviation personnel, like aircrew) have served vital roles in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other theaters. Drone pilots/drone operators, fighter pilots, and other airmen of the United States Air Force have all experienced a greater prevalence of the symptoms of PTSD because of their recent engagements.
Unlike many other military Veterans, aviators experience unique challenges associated with PTSD reporting and benefits.
Many military personnel exposed to a traumatic event in service will display symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, most aviators fail to report their symptoms. Why? These Veterans fear the repercussions of a PTSD diagnosis.
If diagnosed, many of these Veterans would be grounded and unable to fly. So, these Veterans usually internalize the problems they are experiencing due to PTSD so they can continue to work and not let their fellow servicemembers down.
This doesn’t mean they cannot receive service connection for their mental health diagnosis, but it will be more difficult to prove without evidence in your service treatment records. In these cases, we often recommend using buddy statements to help prove the symptoms you displayed in service.
However, aviators may also fail to report PTSD because they do not want to be shamed by their fellow servicemembers. For example, if they report PTSD, they may be afraid that others will call their symptoms exaggerated or say they can’t develop PTSD because they didn’t see any combat action.
In the worst cases, this attitude can leave Veterans unable to acquire the compensation or support they need to recover and thrive once they leave the military. All Veterans need support for their mental health conditions, regardless of whether they served in the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or elsewhere.
PTSD is widely recognized as a critical psychiatric condition by the VA. It is assigned the Diagnostic Code 9411. When a Veteran applies for PTSD benefits, they receive a disability rating ranging from 0% to 100%.
A 0% rating marks the Veteran as having diagnosed PTSD with symptoms that are manageable through medication and therapy or symptoms that are so minor that they do not interfere with their everyday life.
Ratings of 100% mark a given Veteran as debilitated or disabled by their PTSD and in need of major intervention.
A rating of 70% is most common for diagnosed PTSD, at least initially.
Veterans with a disability rating for PTSD can potentially receive thousands of dollars per month depending on things like their marital status or whether they have any dependents. Check out the VA’s breakdown of compensation rates to estimate how much money you may receive with a given rating.
Acquiring compensation for PTSD or another mental health problem as a military aviator may seem impossible, but don’t lose hope. The right Veterans law attorneys can help you get the compensation you deserve and need to pay for ongoing therapy and medical support.
It starts when you contact Veterans law attorneys and fill out VA Form 21-526. This form is how you begin the disability benefits claims process. Next, you’ll need to gather evidence to prove that you both have PTSD (and that it affects your day-to-day life) and that you developed that PTSD as a direct result of your military service.
This is crucial when acquiring a service connection from the VA. A service connection means:
For example, suppose you can prove that you saw a traumatic event during your time in the military by gathering your service and medical records. In that case, you’ll likely receive a service connection from the VA and disability benefits.
Your Veterans law attorneys can help you gather evidence to substantiate this claim and prove that you deserve a service connection for your PTSD. Useful evidence includes:
Once you gather the appropriate evidence, your Veterans law attorneys can help you submit your benefits claim. If your claim is initially or later denied, they can also help you through the appeals process.
Military aviators in all branches can and do acquire PTSD due to their military experiences. Because of this, they may qualify for disability compensation and other benefits under the VA.
Getting those benefits means first contacting knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys like Berry Law. At Berry Law, we’ll walk you through the disability benefits process from start to finish and make sure you understand your compensation amounts and ratings. If you’ve already applied for benefits and been denied, we can assist when appealing directly to the VA.
Contact us today to learn more.
Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.