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5 Common Disabilities Unique to Veterans & How They Qualify for VA Benefits

June 27, 2017

Wisconsin is home to half a million veterans, many of whom have a disability of one shape or another that manifest in the physical and/or psychological form.  In fact, war affects each veteran in profound ways that the average citizen cannot fully understand.  Veteran disability benefits take into consideration the uniqueness of a veteran situation.  To qualify for veteran disabilities, a veteran must not be completely incapacitated by the disability.  In fact, as discussed in another article, a veteran can have a disability that leaves him or her functioning at 90% capacity and still receive monthly benefits.  Thus, unlike social security disability insurance where you must prove you haven’t been able to work and cannot work because of your disability, for veteran disability qualification, you can be able to work and still receive the monthly monetary benefit.

Below is a brief description of five of the more common diagnoses that qualify veterans for disability benefits.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Thousands, maybe even more, veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, throughout Wisconsin.  PTSD is an anxiety disorder set off by a “stressor” that can create a sense of fear and stress at any given time for a veteran, even when there is nothing to stress about or fear.  This dynamic produces mental anguish that can be insufferable at times.  The severity of PTSD is different for each veteran who is affected by it.  Treatment for it is also different depending on the severity.

PTSD was not always considered a “disability” and, thus, it was difficult for veterans to get treatment for it even though a disproportionate number suffer from it. Then in 2010, regulations were passed that, among other things, dropped the requirement that veterans must provide evidence to prove the existence of the traumatic event that caused the PTSD while in service.  The new regulations opened the doors for more veterans to claim the VA disability benefits due to their disability of PTSD.

To qualify for disability, the following requirements must be met:

  • Diagnosis of PTSD by a physician or psychiatrist;
  • Identification (but no evidence required) of the traumatic event or stressor that is:
    • Linked to a fear of hostile military activity;
    • Likely to have happened during veteran’s active duty or service; and
    • Not linked to any other traumatic experience other than military service; and
  • VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirmation that the identified stressor alone causes PTSD.

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks is a disorder that causes an unexpected feeling of fear and anxiety that are accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

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  • Palpitations;
  • Racing or pounding;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Trembling or shaking;
  • Chest pain or discomfort;
  • Numbing or tingling;
  • Dizziness or light-headedness; and/or
  • Stomach pain or discomfort.

A person suffering a panic attack may think they are dying or going crazy while other sufferers may commit an act that is out of their control.  Panic attacks happen unexpectedly and are recurrent, which is enough reason for some sufferers to endure a panic attack: the fear of one happening.  Because of this fear of a panic attack happening, and the real intense fear associated with panic attacks while they are happening, veterans with panic disorder tend to avoid situations or places that may be difficult for a person to leave or get help during a panic attack episode.  The more fear a person feels, the more likely the veteran is to avoid public places.  Panic disorder can lead to the condition of agoraphobia, where sufferers do not leave their home for weeks, even months and years.  To receive benefits, diagnosis and a link to the military service are required.

Depression

Depression is a common yet serious mental illness.  For veterans, the illness may be brought on by:

  • a disabling physical injury suffered during military duty;
  • an incident experienced during military duty; or
  • another mental illness during military duty.

There are two separate diagnoses of depression that the VA recognizes for disability benefit purposes: (1) dysthymic disorder; and (2) major depressive disorder.

Dysthymic disorder is usually the less severe of the two disorders, but it can last longer than major depressive disorder.  To qualify as such, a veteran must have felt depressed for two or more years, accompanied by symptoms that interfere with the veteran functioning in the “real world,” and these symptoms could include:

  • low self-esteem;
  • a feeling of hopelessness; and/or
  • difficulty with concentration or decision-making.

Major depressive disorder, on the other hand, are shorter yet recurrent episodes of depression.  The sufferer must have experienced at least two major episodes of depression that lasted no less than two weeks, and after the episode, the sufferer is left with symptoms that make them less likely to function appropriately in society:

  • loss of interest in activities;
  • depressed feelings throughout most of the day;
  • either sleep excessively or not at all;
  • no energy; and/or
  • frequent thoughts about death or dying.

Like most mental illnesses, to be eligible for VA disability benefits, the depression disorder must be directly linked to the veteran’s military service.  To establish a connection, the following elements must be demonstrated:

  • A current diagnosis of major or dysthymic depression;
  • Evidence of an incident or condition that caused the depression while in service; and
  • Medical evidence that the current diagnosis is linked to the incident that occurred in service.

In some cases, the veteran may have had depression before military service or may have developed it due to a physical disability connected to service.  A veteran with a pre-existing depressive disorder must show that (1) he or she had the disorder prior to military service (military medical records usually will have this disorder recorded); and (2) military service aggravated the depression by proving the three elements listed above.  Those veterans who became depressed after a service-related physical condition can also receive disability benefits by providing proof of the same above-listed elements, with the exception that the physical condition (and not necessarily incident causing the depression) that caused the depression is connected to his or her service.

Amputation

Amputation is a severe condition that leads to severe disability in many cases, but not always.  Amputation can be either the partial or entire removal of a body part. Amputation can be a result of something that happens while in battle, or else it can be something that happens at the hospital to (1) stop the spread of gangrene, bone cancer, diabetes, or arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), or (2) to minimize infection in a veteran who may have suffered irreparable limb damage.  An amputation does not automatically qualify a veteran for social security disability insurance, but it does qualify the veteran for veteran disabilities without the need to prove anything other than the amputation was related to or caused by service in the military.

One caveat: amputations often lead into secondary depression.  Veterans with amputations should be aware of the possibility of a depressive disorder, and if it transpires, the veteran qualifies for additional disability benefits.

Chemical Exposure

Veterans have been and still are often exposed to seriously harmful chemicals, such as herbicides, pesticides, solvents, and other toxic materials.  When chemicals and veterans are expressed in the same sentence, it often is a reference to Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War.  Agent Orange, however horrible it was, is just one of many different chemicals to which veterans can be exposed.  Often, too, exposure to such chemicals leads to various and serious health conditions that can have a great impact on the veteran’s short- and long-term quality of life.

presumptive conditions.  These are specific disabilities that a veteran acquires after his or her service.  If a veteran is diagnosed with a certain disease or condition after service during certain periods of time and/or at certain specific geographical locations, the VA presumes it was the military service that caused the condition.  As such, disability benefits will be awarded without much ado.  For instance, a veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and who was diagnosed with, for example, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, or a number of other diseases, the VA will presume the disease is service-connected, and the Veteran will qualify for disability benefits.

All of these mental illnesses, physical conditions and diseases are usually not necessarily automatically deemed disabilities in the traditional sense, but for veterans, they are disabilities.  Veterans, after service in the military, experience day-to-day life differently, and the above conditions (as well as other not mentioned) can have a serious debilitating impact on the veteran’s life.  If you are a veteran and have any of the above or other conditions and are finding it hard to file a claim or get approve, contact a veteran disability attorney as soon as possible for assistance.

 

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