Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (38 CFR 3.304 & 4.125) and/or Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
One of the trademark medical conditions veterans struggle with is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Throughout time, PTSD has been referred to by many names such as shell-shock, irritable heart, combat exhaustion, stress response syndrome, soldier’s heart and hysteria. The only certainty is that the symptoms experienced by veterans – regardless of label – are consistently experienced. These symptoms are undeniable and experienced by many veterans. The VA now recognizes that PTSD is commonly experienced by military veterans and has created a National Center for PTSD to learn more about this condition and effective treatments.
There are many symptoms associated with PTSD. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Reliving or re-experiencing the event such as nightmares, bad memories or flashbacks;
- Avoiding situations and stimuli that remind you of the event such as crowds, people, television and other forms of entertainment;
- Negative changes in your thought process, feelings and beliefs such as guilt, shame or fear. You may also lose interest in activities or people you once enjoyed;
- Feeling on-edge, anxious or hyperarousal. You are often on the lookout for threats. This may affect your sleep or ability to concentrate.
These symptoms often lead to other problems such as alcoholism, pain, employment difficulties, social withdrawal, relationship problems, and anxiety or depression.
In order to receive service-connection for PTSD, the claimant must demonstrate (1) a current diagnosis of PTSD, (2) evidence of an in-service stressor and (3) medical evidence demonstrating a nexus (causation) between your current symptoms and the in-service stressor.
(1) Current Diagnosis of PTSD
The diagnosis must be from either a licensed psychiatrist; certain VA psychologists; or a private psychologist holding a PH.D. in psychology or a related field of study.
(2) Evidence of an In-Service Stressor
To determine if you have a stressor, the VA will first look to your DD-214 to see if you “engaged in combat with the enemy.” This qualifies as an in-service stressor. When a veteran has any of the combat decorations listed below, the VA will presume the veteran engaged in combat with the enemy, unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary:
- Air Force Achievement Medal with “V” Device
- Air Force Combat Action Medal
- Air Force Commendation Medal with “V” Device
- Air Force Cross
- Air Medal with “V” Device
- Army Commendation Medal with “V” Device
- Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device
- Combat Action Badge
- Combat Action Ribbon (Note: Prior to February 1969, the Navy Achievement Medal with “V” Device was awarded.)
- Combat Aircrew Insignia
- Combat Infantry/Infantryman Badge
- Combat Medical Badge
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Joint Service Commendation Medal with “V” Device
- Medal of Honor
- Navy Commendation Medal with “V” Device
- Navy Cross
- Purple Heart, and/or
- Silver Star
If you did not receive one of the above decorations, it is still possible to demonstrate that you engaged in combat. Other medals such as the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Iraq Campaign Medal can support a claim that the veteran “engaged in combat.” However, more evidentiary development will be necessary.
Engaging in combat with the enemy isn’t the only way to demonstrate an in-service stressor. Other in-service, traumatic events such as sexual and physical abuse, natural disasters, serious accidents like automobile wrecks and instances of military sexual trauma can also qualify for purposes of establishing a diagnosis of PTSD.
(3) Medical Evidence Demonstrating a Nexus (Causation) Between Your Current Symptoms and the In-Service Stressor
During your medical examination the Examiner will determine whether there is a nexus (link) between your current condition and the claimed in-service stressor. It is essential that you obtain a medical statement demonstrating this nexus from either a licensed psychiatrist; certain VA psychologists; or a private psychologist holding a PH.D.in psychology or a related field of study. If you have a current diagnosis, an in-service stressor, and a nexus exists, service-connection for PTSD should be awarded.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Many veterans experienced sexual trauma while serving. The VA refers to these traumatic events as “Military Sexual Trauma” (MST), which is defined as sexual assault (including rape) or repetitive, threatening sexual harassment. Military Sexual Trauma is a qualifying stressor for the purpose of establishing a diagnosis of PTSD. You are eligible for VA disability compensation if (1) you had a Military Sexual Trauma while on active duty, (2) you are currently diagnosed with a mental or physical disability, and (3) the disability is caused by the Military Sexual Trauma. Were you denied benefits for a disability caused by Military Sexual Trauma while on active duty? If so, you may be eligible for benefits and should contact VA Disability Group online or call 1-844-VETLAWS (1-844-838-5297) to learn more.