Part II: Groundbreaking Truth About Securing Service-Connected Benefits

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28 January, 2019 By Elizabeth Harding

Many OIF/OEF veterans experience intense anger outbursts from traffic jams. We learned of several Iraqi veterans who informed doctors that driving around the Middle East meant driving as fast as they wanted, any time they wanted. Also, road rules of any sort did not exist. For obvious reason, following any such road etiquette could have gotten them injured or killed. When back in the states, these veterans perceived road rules and congestion on the road as a sign of imminent or immediate danger. Therefore, road rage is another probable indicator of PTSD. If you are an OIF/OEF veteran make sure and tell the clinician you cannot tolerate driving.


Veterans of both Vietnam and OIF/OEF with PTSD show signs of detachment from loved ones and friends. Getting emotionally and psychologically attached to others in the combat zone can make veterans vulnerable. This defense mechanism helps veterans protect themselves from the pain of loss. It is important to let your psychologist know that you are afraid to connect with friends and loved ones. You find it difficult to establish meaningful relationships since you departed the war zone. This is another key marker of PTSD.


Alcohol abuse is another characteristic of PTSD. Why? The pain, suffering, and psychological turmoil you are struggling with is often drowned in booze. Many veterans with PTSD consume large amounts alcohol to mask depression, reduce anxiety, or divert their feelings. Albeit, this is not a good way to fight against PTSD, but those with PTSD abuse alcohol often not really concerning themselves about the consequences of alcohol abuse. Once more, another symptom of PTSD.


Those veterans diagnosed with PTSD who experienced multiple combat traumas often suffer with what’s known as “survivors guilt.” They often ask themselves, “How did I survive when others did not?” Or, “Why I am alive? The other guys that died were so much more deserving of life.” Mental health professionals who are sensitive to this kind of inner turmoil will certainly sympathize with those veterans who show signs of survivor’s guilt.


Lastly, during your interview it is important to note that all of your symptoms occurred after your tenure in the war zone. Before heading to war, you were happy, extroverted, and positive about your future. This suggests to mental health professionals that war trauma has changed you in dramatic fashion


Understanding Your GAF Score

After your interview, the mental health professional who did your assessment will provide you with a GAF score. The Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) is a measure of your immediate daily functioning. It is a score from 0-100. The higher the score the healthier you are, psychologically speaking. Veterans with PTSD generally have a GAF score of 40 – 49. Once your interview is completed you may want to ask your interviewer what GAF score they assigned you. If you receive a score over 60, you may want to inject a well-rehearsed, “Oh, I forgot to tell you…”


Developing A Documentation Trail

So much of making the bureaucratic evaluation system work is to “play the game.” The mindset of VA mental health professionals is such, that if you are not actively working on helping your condition, then you do not have a condition. If a veteran is not involved in individual or group psychotherapy, then, according to VA personnel, that veteran does not have a condition. If PTSD has been previously diagnosed and the veteran refuses treatment or rarely attends treatment, then that veteran is in jeopardy of losing his or her benefits.


When pursuing service-connected benefits a veteran must show that he or she is attending treatment programs offered by the VA. Vet Centers are great vehicles for developing documentation trails. Your local Vet Center will help you put together the documentation you need to show proof that you are interested in working on your PTSD. After several weeks of attending group or individual therapy, your therapist at your local Vet Center can provide you with a 2-3 page Treatment Summary letter illustrating your involvement in the Vet Center program


Moreover, one of the side benefits of utilizing Vet Center programs is the education you get from other veterans about the benefits process. Vet Center environments are much more relaxed then CBOC or VAMC run programs. Veterans are free to discuss issues related to benefits in an open forum. We know of many veterans who have attempted to secure PTSD benefit for years. Once engaged in the Vet Center program these veterans went from a 0% disability rating, to 60% rating and more.


PTSD Residential Treatment Programs

Veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD have great leverage in increasing their disability ratings. If you are less than 100% service-connected for PTSD, talk to your VA psychiatrist, psychologist or Vet Center therapist about attending a PTSD residential program. If you can afford to get away from your day job or home for 6-7 weeks, one of many inpatient PTSD residential programs may be of interest to you. Such programs reimburse you at 100% while you are in the program, and some will pay travel reimbursement.


The programs are designed to provide you with additional strategies for living with PTSD. One might assume that such programs are emotionally and psychological intense. Nothing could be further from the truth. One veteran put it this way, “I loved my time in Little Rock. It was a 7-week respite. I had my own room, we had daily outings to local restaurants and movie theatres. I made some great arts and craft items. It was great! I want to go back.”


MST Veterans

The VA also recognizes Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as a compensable condition. Due to the sensitive nature of this condition it is obvious as to why this issue does not require any documentation. Also, one might be surprised to learn that many men have been diagnosed with this compensable condition.


Common trauma that arises from MST issues is rape and sexual harassment. Many women feared reporting such events while in uniform for fear of jeopardizing their careers. Years later, these stories are being reported to VA staff, and men and women are being compensated in large numbers. Many receive ratings of 70% and more in a matter of just a few months, and upon the first filing.


We have learned that military men have reported rape, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse events in large numbers. For instance, one young Marine reported that members in his unit attempted to insert carrots in his anus as part of some tacit hazing ritual. Of course, no one can prove or disprove this event. Nonetheless, he now receives 100% service-connected compensation for MST.


Bottom line, if you have been sexually abused or think you may have been sexually abused report it as soon as possible. Also, make sure and report to your Veteran Service Officer (VSO) that you are interested in a claim for MST.


MST compensation is ridiculously easy to secure. No one will ever question you about your MST trauma. No one!


Most Vet Centers have specially trained counselors who work with MST clients, and most want to help you get compensated for your MST trauma.


You Be The Judge

Based upon the insight you have just read, please read the two transcripts below. One veteran received a diagnosis for PTSD, the other did not.


Below is a transcript from a recent PTSD evaluation.


Psychologist: “How are you doing today Mr. Smith?”

Mr. Smith: “I feel ok Doc.”

Psychologist: “How’s your sleep been?”

Mr. Smith: “I sleep pretty good Doc. About 7-8 hours a day.”

Psychologist: “Any dreams.”

Mr. Smith: “None that I can remember.”

Psychologist: “You drinking?”

Mr. Smith: “An occasional beer with my friends.”

Psychologist: “What about driving? Any issues on the road?”

Mr. Smith: “No.”

Psychologist: “Are you ok with large crowds?”

Mr. Smith: “No problem Doc. They excite me.”


Note: This veteran did not get a diagnosis of PTSD.


On the other hand, read the transcript below. This veteran received a diagnosis of PTSD.


Psychologist: “How are you doing today Mr. Jones?”

Mr. Jones: “I feel like crap. I’m tired all the time. I can’t concentrate. I feel angry at people, family and friends for no apparent reason.”

Psychologist: “How’s your sleep?”

Mr. Jones: “What sleep? I can’t get any. I barely get two hours a day.  Honestly doc, I’m afraid of sleep.”

Psychologist: “Any dreams?”

Mr. Jones: “When I do zonk out, I dream about the firefights I had. I keep having similar dreams about different firefights I was in. It’s ridiculous.”

Psychologist: “You drinking?”

Mr. Jones: “It is the only way I can get some sleep. I’m not addicted Doc, I just need a beer or two or three so I can take the edge off and fall asleep.”

Psychologist: “What about driving? Any issues on the road?”

Mr. Jones: “I only drive at night. At night I don’t have to deal with all of the idiots on the road.”

Psychologist: “Are you ok with large crowds?”

Mr. Jones: “Hate them! I get nervous. Can’t trust the people.  You never know who is in a crowd that might want to do harm to you.”


Note: Mr. Jones received a rating of 100% for service-connected PTSD.

Written by

Elizabeth Harding

Elizabeth is a contributing USVCP staff writer.