Veterans benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States
The United States provides a wide range of benefits for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was incurred in, or aggravated by, their military service. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will provide benefits to veterans that the VA has determined suffer from PTSD, which developed during, or as a result of, their military service. These benefits not only include tax-free cash payments but can also include free or low-cost mental health treatment and other healthcare; vocational rehabilitation services; employment assistance; independent living support; and more.
VA disability benefits for PTSD have evolved over time, in response to legislation, scientific advances, political pressure, revised diagnostic classification schemes, regulatory changes, case law, and administrative decisions. Veterans advocacy organizations, researchers, clinicians, politicians, administrators, and citizens will no doubt continue to influence how the United States evaluates, adjudicates, and administers the program. For example, current efforts at change or reform include urging the VA to place more emphasis on vocational rehabilitation and treatment versus cash payments; revising the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders to better reflect problems experienced by veterans with PTSD; establishing a balance between efforts to decrease claims processing time (productivity) with the need for consistency and accuracy of examination results and rating decisions (quality); and considering a veteran's quality of life as a factor in determining the disability rating.
- 1 U.S. veterans benefits
- 2 VA disability claims process
- 3 Obtaining assistance
- 4 Disability rating
- 5 PTSD C&P exam
- 6 Important definitions
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
U.S. veterans benefits
Since the founding of the country, the United States has sought to compensate the men and women who have served in its armed forces. In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed legislation emphasizing an indemnity model for veterans disability benefits. Congress sought to clarify and better specify provisions of the law in 1919 amendments to the original bill. Since that year, compensation has been provided to veterans suffering from physical or mental disabilities that were incurred during, or aggravated by, military service, and which have adversely impacted the veteran's ability to work. The amount of compensation provided—both cash payments and VA-sponsored services—are based on the veteran's average impairment in earnings capacity. Since OIF/OEF, PTSD has grown to be the third most compensated disability in the VA after hearing loss and tinnitus.
Whether disability benefits adequately compensate veterans with PTSD for loss in average earning capacity has been debated. Older veterans age 65 and up rated at 50% disabled or higher for PTSD, including individual unemployability (IU) benefits, receive more in compensation (plus any earned income and retirement benefits such as Social Security or pensions) than nondisabled veterans earn in the workforce and/or receive in Social Security and other retirement benefits. However, younger veterans (age 55 and below) generally receive less in compensation benefits (plus any earned income) than their non-disabled counterparts earn via employment. For example, the parity ratio[a] for a 25-year-old veteran rated 100% disabled by PTSD is 0.75, and for a 35-year-old veteran rated 100% disabled by PTSD the ratio is 0.69. The parity ratio for a 75-year-old veteran receiving IU benefits is 6.81.
Research indicates that veterans receiving disability benefits for PTSD experience a reduction in PTSD symptom severity, and have lower rates of poverty and homelessness.
In addition to lost income, a Congressionally-mandated commission, argued that the VA disability benefits program should compensate veterans for non-economic losses, particularly with regard to a veteran's overall quality of life. The U.S. Government Accountability Office analyzed this recommendation and suggested that it be considered as one of three major changes to modernize the VA disability benefits program.
Some scholars argue that the VA disability benefits program is "countertherapeutic" because it provides no incentives to overcome symptoms and problems caused by the disorder, and, in fact rewards veterans for staying sick, while other researchers take issue with this assertion. In a similar vein, a military scholar, who lost both legs during combat operations in Iraq, suggests that current VA disability benefits policy inculcates in veterans a lack of self-efficacy and fosters dependency.
VA disability claims process
This section provides a brief overview of the process for initial claims filing, claim development, and adjudication at the local (Regional Office) level.
The VA provides a description of the 8-step benefits claims process on its website. This is a brief overview:
1. Claim Received - The veteran has submitted a disability compensation claim in person (e.g., while still on active duty with a VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) representative visiting his or her base), online (via the Veterans On-Line Application [VONAPP]), or by postal mail to the VBA Regional Office (VARO) assigned to his or her geographical location (legal residence). The VARO sends a letter to the veteran via postal mail confirming receipt of the claim.
2. Under Review - A VSR (Veterans Service Representative) reviews the information submitted by the veteran to determine if VBA needs any additional evidence (e.g., service medical records) to adjudicate the claim.
3. Gathering of Evidence - VA has a legal obligation to help veterans obtain any evidence that will support their claim. For example, the VSR might request a veteran's military personnel records (e.g., to confirm unit assignments), Social Security disability records (if the veteran applied for Social Security disability benefits), or private medical records. The veteran can also obtain such records and submit them to the VBA Regional Office handling his or her claim. If necessary, the VSR will request a Compensation and Pension examination (C&P exam) at this time.
4. Review of Evidence - An RVSR (Ratings Veterans Service Representative) makes sure that all relevant evidence has been obtained, and, if so, renders a decision regarding the veteran's claim. The RVSR refers in part to the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders when making this determination.
5. Preparation for Decision - It is not clear how this step differs from the previous step. The exact quote from the VA website is: "The Veterans Service Representative [presumably they mean the Ratings Veterans Service Representative] has recommended a decision, and is preparing required documents detailing that decision. If more evidence is required, the claim will be sent back in the process for more information or evidence."
6. Pending Decision Approval - Approval by a supervisor.
7. Preparation for Notification - Preparing the "claim decision packet" (Decision Letter and explanatory materials).
8. Complete - VBA mails the "claim decision packet" to the veteran.
Benefits application procedures
To begin the disability claim process, veterans submit a claim to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), an organizational element of the VA. The VBA, based on their review of medical and psychological evidence, must conclude that the veteran indeed suffers from service-connected PTSD. Reaching such a determination usually requires that the veteran receive a Compensation and Pension examination (C&P exam), which is a forensic[b] mental health evaluation conducted by a psychologist or psychiatrist at a local VA medical facility or by a psychologist or psychiatrist in independent practice who conducts evaluations for a VA-contracted private vendor.
Veterans apply for compensation benefits by mailing or faxing a form, VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension, or online using the Veterans On-Line Application (VONAPP) System.
Veterans may receive assistance with filing a VA disability compensation claim from Veterans Service Officers, also known as "VSO Representatives" or "Veterans Service Representatives",[c] especially when they are affiliated with a nonprofit Veterans Service Organization. The veteran does not pay a Veterans Service Officer for their services. The VA recommends consulting with a Veterans Service Officer:
VA encourages individuals who are applying for disability compensation to work with an accredited representative ... to assist them ... Being accredited means organizations and individuals must have VA permission to represent Veterans before the Department in their claims for VA benefits. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that Veterans have qualified and competent representation. These individuals receive specialized training in VA benefits law and procedure.
Although some veterans advocates recommend that veterans learn how to file their own claims so that they retain control over the process, e.g., "... veterans [should] file their own claims without the assistance of any sort of representative ... except for an appeal" (see Post-Adjudication Representation, below, for information regarding legal representation for appeals).
The next two sections briefly describe the two types of Veterans Service Officers.
County veterans service officers
County veterans service officers are public employees of their State's (or Territory's) veterans affairs agency. They are often called County Veterans Service Officers, because a majority of the states have set up local veterans affairs offices in each of the state's counties.
Veterans service officers associated with nonprofit veterans service organizations
Many not-for-profit veterans service organizations recruit, train, and support their own veterans service officers to help veterans file claims and navigate the claims process. In order to represent a veteran before the VA, the Veterans Service Organization must either have been Chartered by the U.S. Congress or have received official approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to represent veterans in the disability compensation claims process. [d]
Veterans may appeal the VBA's decision regarding their compensation claim, and they may ask to be represented by an accredited Veterans Service Officer, attorney, or claims agent in the appeals process. Note that the VA does not require a veteran to be represented by a Veterans Service Officer, attorney, or claims agent.
VA prohibits attorneys or claims agents from charging a veteran for professional services prior to the adjudication of the veteran's claim. A veteran may contract with an attorney or claims agent to represent them in an appeal only after the following three conditions have been met:
(1) the veteran has filed his or her disability compensation claim;
(2) the claim has been adjudicated (a decision on the claim has been made by the Veterans Benefits Administration); and
(3) the veteran has filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VBA Regional Office handling his or her claim.
Unless they agree to work on a pro bono basis, attorneys and claims agents who represent veterans before the Veterans Benefits Administration, Board of Veterans Appeals, and Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims require payment for their services. At the federal court level, most attorneys work for Equal Access to Justice Act fees. These are attorney fees ordered by the court to be paid by the federal government when the government's position in litigation was not "substantially justified."
General rating formula for mental disorders
If VBA determines that a veteran suffers from service-connected PTSD, then they assign a disability rating, expressed as a percentage. This disability rating determines the amount of compensation and other disability benefits the VA will provide to the veteran. The disability rating indicates the extent to which PTSD has deprived the veteran of his or her average earnings capacity. A rating of 0% indicates that a veteran has PTSD but the disorder has not affected his or her ability to work, whereas a 100% rating theoretically means that the veteran is not capable of working at all because of PTSD.[e]
The VA assigns disability ratings for PTSD according to the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders (38 C.F.R. § 4.130), which specifies criteria for disability ratings of 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%.
Some argue that by relying on the current Rating Formula, "VA uses decades-old regulations developed for mental disorders that do not resemble PTSD", and, consequently, "[i]rrelevant criteria ... may outweigh ... more relevant factors, leading VA to undercompensate veterans with valid diagnoses of PTSD." Similarly, veterans service organizations have argued, for example, that a "... veteran service connected for schizophrenia and another veteran service connected for another psychiatric disorder should not be evaluated using the same general formula" and have supported efforts to revise the Rating Formula.
Concern has been expressed by some RSVRs (VBA 'raters' who adjudicate claims) that automated software discourages their use of independent judgment to evaluate the claim as a whole, a charge senior VA officials reject.
Since 2001, the VA has been revising its disability rating schedule to incorporate medical advances that have occurred since the last review, update medical terminology, add medical conditions not currently in the Rating Schedule, and refine criteria for further clarity, consistency and ease of rater application.
Requests for an increased disability rating
A veteran currently receiving compensation for service-connected PTSD may file a claim for an increase in his or her disability rating (the VA also refers to this as an increased disability evaluation, although increased disability rating is more common), or for individual unemployability: If a veteran believes that PTSD, either alone or in combination with other service-connected disabilities (e.g., diabetes, a back injury, chronic pain, etc.), renders him or her incapable of pursuing and retaining gainful employment, and they meet the eligibility requirements, then they may file a compensation claim based on unemployability using VA Form 21-8940.
PTSD C&P exam
As noted above, the VBA almost always requires a compensation and pension examination (C&P exam) of veterans claiming service-connected PTSD. There are two types of PTSD C&P exams: Initial and Review. The Initial Examination for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder must be conducted by a VA psychologist or psychiatrist certified by the VHA Office of Disability and Medical Assessment (DMA) to evaluate veterans for this purpose. However, note that the definition of "VA psychologist or psychiatrist" includes psychologists and psychiatrists in private practice who conduct C&P exams for a company that has contracted with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) or the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to provide C&P exam services on behalf of the VA. Companies with current VBA or VHA C&P exam contracts include Veterans Evaluation Services (VES), QTC, Logistics Health Incorporated (LHI), and Medical Support Los Angeles (MSLA).
The Review Evaluation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be completed by VA or non-VA psychologists and psychiatrists. Clinical or counseling psychology interns, psychiatric residents, licensed clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and clinical nurse specialists may also conduct review PTSD exams, although they must be "closely supervised" by a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Some VA medical centers do not allocate enough time for C&P psychologists and psychiatrists to conduct a thorough, evidence-based assessment, with less time presumably reducing the validity of the results.
- The time allocated to conduct the exam varies from one to four hours, which in itself indicates a lack of consistency and likely lower rates of inter-rater reliability.
- One survey of C&P psychologists showed that only 15% followed VA's own guidance regarding best practices for PTSD compensation and pension exams. For example, one of the best practice recommendations is to assess veterans for PTSD using the 'gold standard' Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), but the vast majority of C&P psychologists do not use this validated instrument according to the survey.
- Some VA facilities prohibit examiners from using symptom validity tests to screen or assess for malingering and other forms of dissimulation, perhaps because some VA researchers argue that the rate of significant exaggeration or malingering among veterans filing PTSD compensation claims is unknown. Other researchers, news reports, and newspaper editorials assert that a sizeable percentage of veterans filing PTSD disability claims exaggerate or feign PTSD symptoms.
Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ)
Mental health professionals document the results of Initial and Review PTSD C&P exams on a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ). The VA developed Disability Benefit Questionnaires (DBQs) to streamline the VBA ratings process and thereby complete the claims process faster. In addition, veterans may ask their treating clinicians to complete a DBQ and possibly bypass the need for a C&P exam. However, it is important to note that the VA discourages their mental health clinicians from completing DBQs for their patients, and similar recommendations have been offered to private psychologists and psychiatrists whose patients ask them to complete DBQs, because it potentially creates a conflict of interest due to a dual role relationship (serving simultaneously as a treating clinician and a forensic evaluator).
C&P psychologists have expressed concern that the DBQ "Symptom List" (Section II, Number 5 on the Initial PTSD DBQ;[f] Section VII on the Review PTSD DBQ; and Section III on the Mental Disorders DBQ)[g] contains a series of signs, symptoms, and descriptions of functional impairment without any guidance regarding when these items should be endorsed. [h] These C&P examiners argue that such guidance is important because otherwise C&P examiners will (necessarily) use their own idiosyncratic judgments regarding when to endorse each item in the "Symptom List". In addition, the disability rating may be based largely on which "Symptom List" items are endorsed, since these items are drawn verbatim from the examples given for each level of impairment in the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders.[i]
In order to be eligible for VA benefits, a veteran must have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. Stated differently, if a veteran received a Bad Conduct discharge or a Dishonorable discharge they will, under most circumstances, not be eligible for VA benefits.
In line of duty and exceptions
There are exceptions to the general rule that injuries or diseases incurred in, or aggravated by, military service are eligible for VA disability compensation benefits. For example, such injuries or diseases must meet the in line of duty criteria. "In line of duty means an injury or disease incurred or aggravated during a period of active military, naval, or air service unless such injury or disease was the result of the veteran's own willful misconduct or ... was a result of his or her abuse of alcohol or drugs."
Matthew J. Friedman of the National Center for PTSD notes that:
PTSD is unique among psychiatric diagnoses because of the great importance placed upon the etiological agent, the traumatic stressor. In fact, one cannot make a PTSD diagnosis unless the patient has actually met the "stressor criterion," which means that he or she has been exposed to an historical event that is considered traumatic.
A traumatic stressor is an event that meets Criterion A of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition diagnostic criteria for PTSD. The definition of PTSD Criterion A in DSM-5 is:
The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (one required)
1. Direct exposure.
2. Witnessing, in person.
3. Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.4. Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.
Relevant regulations, e.g., 38 C.F.R. § 4.125(a), were updated on 4 August 2014 to reflect the publication of DSM-5. With the exception of cases filed or appealed before this change, VA psychologists or psychiatrists use DSM-5 when diagnosing veterans' mental disorders.
The term, service-connected, means that a veteran has a disease or injury that is "connected" to his or her military service, i.e., the disease or injury was incurred in, or aggravated by, his or her military service.
The official definition in the Code of Federal Regulations begins:
Service connection connotes many factors but basically it means that the facts, shown by evidence, establish that a particular injury or disease resulting in disability was incurred coincident with service in the Armed Forces, or if preexisting such service, was aggravated therein.
The relationship between service connection and access to VA healthcare is emphasized in this definition:
"'Service connected' veterans are those with documented, compensative conditions related to or aggravated by military service, and they receive priority for enrollment into the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system."
Types of military service
The regulations describe three categories of military service, active duty, active duty for training, and inactive duty training. Eligibility for VA disability compensation requires that the veteran's service occurred during one of these three categories. The definition of active duty military service includes "service at any time as a cadet at the United States Military, Air Force, or Coast Guard Academy, or as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy."
- The CNA report cited herein describes the parity ratio as: "A ratio of exactly 1 would be perfect parity, indicating that the earnings of disabled veterans, plus their VA compensation, gives them the same lifetime earnings as their peers. A ratio of less than one would mean that the service-disabled veterans receive less than their peers on average, while a ratio of greater than one would mean that they receive more than their peers."
- Note that the term forensic in this context simply means legally-related and has nothing to do with criminal law or law enforcement. The veterans disability benefits claims process for PTSD is ultimately a legal proceeding, which is why PTSD C&P examinations are categorized as psycholegal, medicolegal, or, most commonly, forensic mental health evaluations.
- Not to be confused with Veterans Benefits Administration staff whose job title is Veterans Service Representative (VSR).
- Note that the VA sometimes refers to both County Veterans Service Officers and VSO Representatives as "Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) Representatives" or "VSO Representatives." For example, if one conducts an "Accreditation Search" on the VA website and search for a "VSO Representative," the search results will list both County Veterans Service Officers and VSO Representatives.
- The adverb 'theoretically' is used here because the Rating Formula is based on symptoms, not occupational impairment. While the symptoms associated with the 100% rating for mental disorders often cause significant occupational impairment, e.g., "persistent delusions or hallucinations" or "persistent danger of hurting self or others", they do not necessarily render a veteran unable to work.
- The Initial PTSD DBQ is available on the VA intranet only.
- Note that the outline enumeration for the various parts of the DBQs, e.g., "Sections", in Roman numerals, or "Numbers", in Arabic numerals, differ from one DBQ to another, i.e., they are not uniform.
- See also (for a legal perspective): Ridgway, J. D. (2012). Mind reading and the art of drafting medical opinions in veterans benefits claims. Psychological Injury and Law, 5(1), 72-87. doi:10.1007/s12207-012-9119-6
- For example, the "Symptom List" contains the following items: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; and difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships. Each of those signs, symptoms, or descriptions of functional impairment are the exact examples given for the 50% level of impairment in the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders (38 C.F.R. § 4.130). Accordingly, if the C&P examiner endorses one or more of these items, the veteran will likely be assigned a 50% disability rating, all other factors being equal, particularly given the advent of VBA's automated Evaluation Builder software.
- "Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors". Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
The best single source for learning about the wide range of veterans benefits. Note that the web page has versions of the book in HTML & PDF and for tablets and smartphones.
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- Ridgway, J. (2011). "The splendid isolation revisited: Lessons from the history of veterans benefits before judicial review". Veterans Law Review. 3: 135–219. SSRN .
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The ratings shall be based, as far as practicable, upon the average impairments of earning capacity resulting from such injuries in civil occupations ...
- "Individual Unemployability". Veterans Benefits Administration - Compensation. Department of Veterans Affairs. Note: This web page explains the IU eligibility requirements. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
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- Murdoch, Maureen (1 October 2011). "Long-term outcomes of disability benefits in US veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder". Archives of General Psychiatry. 68 (10): 1072–1080. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.105. PMID 21969464. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
Regardless of claim outcome, veterans who apply for PTSD disability benefits are highly impaired. However, receiving PTSD benefits was associated with clinically meaningful reductions in PTSD symptoms and less poverty and homelessness.
- Scott (USA, Ret.), LTG James Terry (10 October 2007). "Findings Of The Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission". Testimony before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
We believe that the level of compensation should be based on the severity of the disability and should make up for the average impairments of earnings capacity and the impact of the disability on functionality and quality of life. ... Current compensation payments do not provide a payment above that required to offset earnings loss. Therefore, there is no current compensation for the impact of disability on the quality of life for most veterans. While permanent quality of life measures are developed, studied, and implemented, we recommend that compensation payments be increased up to 25 percent with priority to the more seriously disabled.
- "VA disability compensation: Actions needed to address hurdles facing program modernization (GAO-12-846)". U.S. Government Accountability Office. 10 September 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
Three key approaches for modernizing VA's disability programs recommended by disability commissions and others—providing quality of life payments, providing integrated vocational services with transitional cash assistance, and systematically factoring the effects of assistive technology and medical interventions into rating decisions—hold opportunity and challenges. Experts and veteran groups GAO interviewed believe each approach holds at least some opportunity for serving veterans more fairly, equitably, and effectively.
- Mossman, D. (1994). "At the VA, it pays to be sick.". The Public Interest. 114: 35–47. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
Sadly, a program with good intentions has yielded a series of perverse incentives that reward illness, encourage patients to view themselves as incapacitated, and poison the relationships between patients and their caregivers.
- Frueh, B. C.; Grubaugh, A. L.; Elhai, J. D.; Buckley, T. C. (December 2007). "US Department of Veterans Affairs disability policies for posttraumatic stress disorder: Administrative trends and implications for treatment, rehabilitation, and research". American Journal of Public Health. 97 (12): 2143–2145. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.115436. PMC . PMID 17971542.
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) psychiatric disability compensation and rehabilitation policies for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although well intentioned, are more than 60 years old and are seriously flawed.
- Satel, S. "PTSD's diagnostic trap". American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
Told he is disabled, the veteran and his family may assume--often incorrectly--that he is no longer able to work. At home on disability, he risks adopting a "sick role" that ends up depriving him of the estimable therapeutic value of work. Lost are the sense of purpose work gives (or at least the distraction from depressive rumination it provides), the daily structure it affords, and the opportunity for socializing and cultivating friendships. The longer he is unemployed, the more his confidence in his ability and motivation to work erodes and his skills atrophy. Once a patient is caught in such a downward spiral of invalidism, it can be hard to throttle back out. What's more, compensation contingent upon being sick often creates a perverse incentive to remain sick. For example, even if a veteran wants very much to work, he understandably fears losing his financial safety net if he leaves the disability rolls to take a job that ends up proving too much for him. This is how full disability status can undermine the possibility of recovery.
- Marx, Brian P.; Miller, Mark W.; Sloan, Denise M.; Litz, Brett T.; Kaloupek, Danny G.; Keane, Terence M. (May 2008). "Military-related PTSD, current disability policies, and malingering". American Journal of Public Health. 98 (5): 773–774. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.133223. PMC . PMID 18381982.
Frueh et al. present an incomplete picture of the literature and neglect substantial evidence that contradicts their thesis
- Gade, Daniel. "A Better Way to Help Veterans" (PDF). National Affairs. 16 (Summer, 2013): 53–69. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
... VA benefit policies ... distort incentives and encourage veterans to live off of government support instead of working to their full capability. Adding to the problem is a culture of low expectations, fostered by the misguided understanding of 'disability' upon which both federal policy and private philanthropy are often based. The result is that, for many veterans, a state of dependency that should be temporary instead becomes permanent.
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There are numerous ways to apply for VA disability benefits depending on the type of benefit you are seeking ...
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The National Association of County Veterans Service Officers is an organization made up of local government employees.
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Listing of Congressionally chartered and other Veterans Service Organizations recognized by the Secretary for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, as provided in Section 5902 (formerly Section 3402) of Title 38, United States Code (U.S.C.) and Sub Section 14.628 (a) and (c) f 38 C.F.R.
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- "Schedule of ratings—mental disorders.". Code of Federal Regulations, Title 38: Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans' Relief, PART 4—SCHEDULE FOR RATING DISABILITIES, Subpart B—Disability Ratings, MENTAL DISORDERS. Government Printing Office, Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR). Note: Scroll down about one page to find the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders - it appears immediately under 9440 Chronic adjustment disorder. This placement is misleading because it appears as if the Rating Formula applies to Chronic Adjustment Disorder only, which is not the case. The Rating Formula applies to all mental disorders. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- Simonson, Scott (2008). "Back from war—A battle for benefits: Reforming VA's disability ratings system for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder" (PDF). Arizona Law Review. 50: 1177–1204. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
- Wilson, John. "Statement of John L. Wilson, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans at the Hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, House Veterans Affairs Committee, on the Implementation and Status Update on the Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act, P.L. 110-389, on 3 February 2010". http://archives.democrats.veterans.house.gov. U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved 10 June 2014. External link in
- Huang, Daniel (11 May 2015). "Automated System Often Unjustly Boosts Veterans' Disability Benefits: Reduction of VA staff input allows more patients to exaggerate symptoms" (12 May 2015 [print edition]). Wall Street Journal. p. A6. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
An effort by the Department of Veterans Affairs that aimed to speed the processing of disability-benefits applications also loosened controls that prevent veterans from exaggerating symptoms to receive more money, say current and former VA employees. A software system introduced in 2012 that automates veterans' disability levels for compensation relies almost solely on a patient's self-reported ailments, the employees say, even in the face of contradictory information. While the new system reduced paperwork and increased output, it limited the information that the VA's employees who determine compensation eligibility and dollar amounts—called raters—can consider, according to these employees. The result, raters contend: a more inaccurate process that approves higher levels of disability than veterans' military records, medical histories and other evidence might show—in some cases increasing payments to veterans by thousands of dollars a month. The process, they maintain, also ignores stated VA rules in which claims must be evaluated 'in light of the [veteran's] whole recorded history.' Senior VA officials counter that the software system still relies on raters' expertise to determine the accuracy of claims. They say it is designed to facilitate, but not replace, that process. Raters 'have every right to change [the symptoms] if there is other evidence in the file,' one official said.
- "VA Disability Compensation: Actions Needed to Address Hurdles Facing Program Modernization (GAO-12-846)". United States Government Accountability Office. 10 September 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
- "Types of Claims - Compensation". Veterans Benefits Administration. Department of Veterans Affairs. Note: Scroll down the web page for the New Claims section. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Section F. Compensation Based on Individual Unemployability (IU)". Veterans Benefits Administration, M21-1MR Compensation and Pension Manual Rewrite (DOC). Department of Veterans Affairs. Note: gainful employment is defined at the bottom of page 2-F-2. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "VETERAN'S APPLICATION FOR INCREASED COMPENSATION BASED ON UNEMPLOYABILITY" (PDF). Veterans Benefits Administration - Compensation (DOC). Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "CERTIFICATION OF CLINICIANS PERFORMING VA DISABILITY EVALUTIONS [sic] (VHA DIRECTIVE 1603)" (PDF). VHA Publications. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration. April 22, 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- Murphy, Thomas (25 June 2014). "Witness Testimony of Mr. Thomas Murphy, Director, Compensation Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs". VBA and VHA Interactions: Ordering and Conducting Medical Examinations: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
VHA supplements these C&P clinics' capabilities, as necessary, using contracted disability examination services. These contractors support the performance of required disability examinations during surges in claims processing, for periods of staffing vacancies, or for times when specialists are required. VHA may also use these services for Veterans who do not live near a VHA medical facility. The use of these "on demand" services allows VHA to maintain examination timeliness and quality to support VA's goals for processing disability claims. VHA medical facilities can use locally contracted services through an individual facility or utilize the centralized, national VHA Disability Examination Management (DEM) contract. ... In addition to examinations completed by VHA, VBA contracts with three vendors to conduct C&P examinations.
- "Veterans Evaluation Services". Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- "QTC Clients". QTCM.com. QTC, A Lockheed-Martin Company. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- "LHI is Awarded Contract to Serve U.S. Veterans". LogisticsHealth.com. Logistics Health Incorporated. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- "Veterans". MSLACA.com. MSLA, A Medical Corporation. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- "REVIEW POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) DISABILITY BENEFITS QUESTIONNAIRE (VA FORM 21-0960P-3)" (PDF). Veterans Health Administration. October 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
The following health care providers can perform REVIEW examinations for PTSD: a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist; a licensed doctorate-level psychologist; a doctorate-level mental health provider under the close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist; a psychiatry resident under close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist; a clinical or counseling psychologist completing a one-year internship or residency (for purposes of a doctorate-level degree) under close supervision of a board-certified or board- eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist; or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a nurse practitioner, a clinical nurse specialist, or a physician assistant, under close supervision of a board-certified or board-eligible psychiatrist or licensed doctorate-level psychologist.
- Institute of Medicine and National Research Council (8 May 2007). PTSD Compensation and Military service. National Academies Press. pp. 204–205. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Russo, Arthur (5 Mar 2014). "Assessing veteran symptom validity" (PDF). Psychological Injury and Law. 7 (2): 178–190. doi:10.1007/s12207-014-9190-2. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Worthen, M. D.; Moering, R. G. (December 2011). "A practical guide to conducting VA compensation and pension exams for PTSD and other mental disorders" (PDF). Psychological Injury and Law. 4 (3-4): 187–216. doi:10.1007/s12207-011-9115-2. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Watson, P.; McFall, M.; McBrine, C.; Schnurr, P. P.; Friedman, M. J.; Keane, T.; Hamblen, J. L. (2002). Best Practice Manual for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Compensation and Pension Examinations (PDF). Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
This document provides information on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and current recommendations regarding what is known about "best practice" procedures for assessing PTSD among veteran populations.
- Jackson, J. C.; et al. (October 2011). "Variation in practices and attitudes of clinicians assessing PTSD-related disability among veterans". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 24 (5): 609–613. doi:10.1002/jts.20688. PMID 21913226. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- "Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5)". PTSD: For Professionals. National Center for PTSD. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
The CAPS is the gold standard in PTSD assessment.
- Speroff, T.; et al. (December 2012). "Impact of evidence-based standardized assessment on the disability clinical interview for diagnosis of service-connected PTSD: A cluster-randomized trial". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 25 (6): 607–615. doi:10.1002/jts.21759. PMID 23225029. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Poyner, G. (27 May 2010). "Psychological evaluations of veterans claiming PTSD disability with the Department of Veterans Affairs: A clinician's viewpoint" (PDF). Psychological Injury and Law. 3: 130–132. doi:10.1007/s12207-010-9076-x. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Marx, B. P.; et al. (August 2012). "The reality of malingered PTSD among veterans: Reply to McNally and Frueh (2012)". Journal of Traumatic Stress. Wiley. 25 (4): 457–460. doi:10.1002/jts.21714. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Arbisi, P. A.; Murdoch, M.; Fortier, L.; McNulty, J. (2004). "MMPI-2 validity and award of service connection for PTSD during the VA compensation and pension evaluation". Psychological Services. 1 (1): 56–67. doi:10.1037/1541-15220.127.116.11. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- Freeman, T.; Powell, M.; Kimbrell, T. (15 April 2008). "Measuring symptom exaggeration in veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder". Psychiatry Research. 158 (3): 374–380. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2007.04.002. PMID 18294699. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- Frueh, B. C.; Hamner, M. B.; Cahill, S. P.; Gold, P. B.; Hamlin, K. L. (October 2000). "Apparent symptom overreporting in combat veterans". Clinical Psychology Review. 20 (7): 853–885. doi:10.1016/S0272-7358(99)00015-X. PMID 11057375. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- Hall, R. C. W.; Hall, R. C. W. (December 2006). "Malingering of PTSD: forensic and diagnostic considerations, characteristics of malingerers and clinical presentations". General Hospital Psychiatry. 28 (6): 525–535. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2006.08.011. PMID 17088169. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- Gold, P. B.; Frueh, B. C. (November 1999). "Compensation-seeking and extreme exaggeration of psychopathology among combat veterans evaluated for posttraumatic stress disorder". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 187 (11): 680–4. doi:10.1097/00005053-199911000-00005. PMID 10579596.
- Wisdom, N. M.; et al. (2014). "PTSD and cognitive functioning: Importance of including performance validity testing". The Clinical Neuropsychologist. 28 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1080/13854046.2013.863977. PMID 24354897. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- Zarembo, Alan (3 August 2014). "As disability awards grow, so do concerns with veracity of PTSD claims". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
Even some veterans whose diagnosis falls under deep suspicion have managed to keep their disability ratings. In one case that Moering reviewed in 2009, he searched military records and concluded that a Navy veteran on the disability rolls for PTSD had lied to VA clinicians about having served in the elite SEALs and concocted his combat history. The VA responded by reducing his PTSD rating from 50% to 30%, records show.
- Huang, Daniel (27 October 2014). "VA Disability Claims Soar: Some See Higher Fraud Risk as More Vets Seek Compensation, Overloading Doctors". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
Requests for disability pay by veterans have ballooned during the past five years, overloading many doctors who evaluate the claims and increasing the possibility of fraud, according to current and former VA staff and government watchdogs.
- McVay, Mark (21 June 2014). "When PTSD benefits are abused". Denver Post. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
I ran into John a few years back for the first time since the early 1970s when we both returned to Michigan from Vietnam. But John was clearly excited to see me. 'Hey man,' he said, 'have you applied for PTSD benefits yet? You can get a couple thousand a month. All you have to do is go to this counseling program for two weeks. Nothing to it. You ought to go.'
- Harbaugh, Ken (1 June 2015). "The Risk of Over-Thanking Our Veterans". New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
And while most vets who receive disability checks deserve them, one of the worst kept secrets among those seeking a disability rating is that the system can be beaten. Claim the right combination of symptoms, whether you are suffering or not, and there is a decent chance you can get a monthly disability check, tax free, for the rest of your life. There are even blogs out there to walk you through the process of claiming an injury that cannot be disproved.
- "Disability Benefits Questionnaire". Veterans Health Administration. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
- "VA CLAIMS PROCESS: REVIEW OF VA'S TRANSFORMATION EFFORTS" (PDF). U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. 13 March 2013. p. 12. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
DBQs replace traditional VA examination reports and are designed to capture all the needed medical information relevant to a specific condition at once and up front so that claims can be developed and processed in a more timely and accurate manner, with the end result being faster service for Veterans. DBQs change the way medical evidence is collected, giving Veterans the option of having their private physician complete a DBQ that provides the medical information needed to rate their claims—minimizing the need for a VA exam which adds additional time to the claim development process. Information in the DBQs maps to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities, and provides all of the necessary information to decide a disability claim.
- "DOCUMENTATION OF MEDICAL EVIDENCE FOR DISABILITY EVALUATION PURPOSES (VHA DIRECTIVE 2013-002)" (PDF). 4(e)(1)(c): Veterans Health Administration. January 14, 2013. p. 4. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
For mental health disability examination requests, it is recommended that the Veteran's treating provider not complete the disability examination to maintain the integrity of the patient- provider relationship.
- Worthen, M. D.; Moering, R. G. (December 2011). "A Practical Guide to Conducting VA Compensation and Pension Exams for PTSD and Other Mental Disorders" (PDF). Psychological Injury and Law. 4 (3-4): 193. doi:10.1007/s12207-011-9115-2.
... we strongly recommend not completing a DBQ for a veteran the private practitioner is seeing for psychotherapy or psychiatric treatment as it will create the awkward position of a dual role relationship with the patient, viz., psychologist or doctor and independent evaluator ...
- Strasburger, L. G.; Gutheil, T. G.; Brodsky, A. (1 April 1997). "On wearing two hats: Role conflict in serving as both psychotherapist and expert witness" (PDF). The American Journal of Psychiatry. 154 (4): 448–456. doi:10.1176/ajp.154.4.448. PMID 9090330. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
The process of psychotherapy is a search for meaning more than for facts. In other words, it may be conceived of more as a search for narrative truth (a term now in common use) than for historical truth. Whereas the forensic examiner is skeptical, questioning even plausible assertions for purposes of evaluation, the therapist may be deliberately credulous, provisionally 'believing' even implausible assertions for therapeutic purposes. The therapist accepts the patient's narrative as representing an inner, personal reality, albeit colored by biases and misperceptions. This narrative is not expected to be a veridical history; rather, the therapist strives to see the world 'through the patient's eyes.' [citation footnote numbers omitted]
- Greenberg, S. A.; Shuman, D. W. (1997). "Irreconcilable conflict between therapeutic and forensic roles" (PDF). Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 28 (1): 50–57. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.28.1.50.
The therapist is a care provider and usually supportive, accepting, and empathic; the forensic evaluator is an assessor and usually neutral, objective, and detached as to the forensic issues. A forensic evaluator's task is to gain an empathic understanding of the person but to remain dispassionate as to the psycholegal issues being evaluated. For therapists, empathy and sympathy–generating a desire to help–usually go hand-in-hand. For forensic evaluators, the task is a dispassionate assessment of the psycholegal issues.
- "REVIEW POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) DISABILITY BENEFITS QUESTIONNAIRE (VA Form 21-0960P-3, OCT 2012)" (PDF). VBA Forms. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- "MENTAL DISORDERS (OTHER THAN PTSD AND EATING DISORDERS) DISABILITY BENEFITS QUESTIONNAIRE (VA Form 21-0960P-3, OCT 2012)" (PDF). VBA Forms. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- Worthen, M. D.; Moering, R. G. (December 2011). "A Practical Guide to Conducting VA Compensation and Pension Exams for PTSD and Other Mental Disorders" (PDF). Psychological Injury and Law. 4 (3-4): 192. doi:10.1007/s12207-011-9115-2.
One section of every mental health-related DBQ is a symptom checklist where, for example, examiners are asked to check off a box if a veteran has "depressed mood" or "anxiety." Unfortunately, the DBQ does not provide any guidance with regard to how one determines the level of symptom frequency, severity, or duration required to endorse a given symptom. Thus, for example, if a veteran reports that she feels "a little depressed" once or twice a week, it is not clear if the examiner should check off the "depressed mood" box or not.
- Russo, A. C. (March 2013). "Ethical, Legal and Risk Management Considerations in the Neuropsychological Assessment of Veterans". Psychological Injury and Law. Springer International Publishing AG. 6 (1): 21–30. doi:10.1007/s12207-013-9145-z. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
VHA neuropsychologists performing VBA C&P examinations [should be] aware of the limitations of the DEMO training modules and the Disability Benefit Questionnaires (DBQ) as used for VBA C&P examination report templates.
- Huang, Daniel (11 May 2015). "Automated System Often Unjustly Boosts Veterans' Disability Benefits". Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
A software system introduced in 2012 that automates veterans' disability levels for compensation relies almost solely on a patient's self-reported ailments, the employees say, even in the face of contradictory information. While the new system reduced paperwork and increased output, it limited the information that the VA's employees who determine compensation eligibility and dollar amounts—called raters—can consider, according to these employees.
- "Disability Compensation: Eligibility". Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Moering, Robert. "Military service records: Searching for the truth." (PDF). Psychological Injury and Law. 4 (3-4): 217–234. doi:10.1007/s12207-011-9114-3.
- "Code of Federal Regulations, Title 38, Chapter I, Part 3, Subpart A, Subjgrp-General(Part 3), Section 3.1 - Definitions - (m) In line of duty" (PDF). U.S. Government Printing Office, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Friedman, MD, PhD, Matthew J. "PTSD History and Overview". National Center for PTSD. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS / 38 CFR Parts 3 and 4 / RIN 2900–AO96 / Schedule for Rating Disabilities—Mental Disorders and Definition of Psychosis for Certain VA Purposes" (PDF). U.S. Government Printing Office. 4 August 2014. p. 45094. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- "Chapter 2 Service-Connected Disabilities: Disability Compensation". Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
- 38 CFR §3.303(a)
- Full text of 38 CFR §3.303(a)
- Murdoch, Maureen; Hodges J; Cowper D; Fortier L; van Ryn M (April 2003). "Racial disparities in VA service connection for posttraumatic stress disorder disability.". Medical Care. 41 (4): 536–49. doi:10.1097/01.MLR.0000053232.67079.A5. PMID 12665717.
- "Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 38, Chapter I, Part 3, Subpart A, Subjgrp-General(Part 3), Section 3.6 - Duty periods." (PDF). U.S. Government Printing Office, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "Disability Compensation". Veterans Benefits Administration. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
Disability compensation is a monthly tax-free benefit paid to Veterans who are at least 10% disabled because of injuries or diseases that were incurred in or aggravated during active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits information
- Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents, & Survivors
- Apply for Benefits Online
- VA Benefits in Brief
- Compensation and Pension Service
- VA Healthcare Benefits Overview
- Veterans Health Benefits Guide
- Online VA Healthcare Eligibility Check
Other veterans benefits resources
- The American Veterans and Service Members Survival Guide
- Overview of Benefit Claims Legal Process
- National Resource Directory - List of Veterans Service Organizations
U.S. government resources for military personnel and veterans
PTSD treatment resources for veterans
- Information & Resources About PTSD
- Where to get help for PTSD
- Understanding PTSD
- PTSD Treatment Programs in the US Department of Veterans Affairs
- My HealtheVet: The Gateway to Veteran Health and Wellness
- Operation Warrior Wellness: Overcoming PTSD
- Military Sexual Trauma Resources Provided by the VA
- Military Sexual Trauma Resources for Women Provided by Stateside Legal