Wood & Smith Legal Services, LLC

What I Learned about PTSD from Invisible Scars

Profile of Man

Recently, I watched Invisible Scars, a documentary about veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Veterans, active duty service members, and family members of combat veterans or service members may get a free copy of the documentary here.

The documentary follows veterans who recount their stories of PTSD, including how they recognized it or were diagnosed with it, how they have been treated for it, and the effects it has had on their lives.  The veterans in the documentary are different ages and fought in different wars.  One of the veterans even lives in Alabama (at least at the time the documentary was made), where our firm is based and also where this documentary premiered.  The documentary also provides commentary by those involved with treating veterans suffering from PTSD along with policy makers and others who support veterans.  Below are some things I learned about PTSD from the documentary.

Former Names for PTSD

PTSD has existed for years, although in previous war times it was referred to as “Soldier’s Heart” or “Shell Shock.”

Recognizing Signs of PTSD

Signs of PTSD include:

  1. Re-experience (flashbacks)
  2. Avoidance Symptoms (avoiding movies or people, for example, because they trigger certain feelings)
  3. Negative Feelings
  4. Hyper-arousal (inability to relax and/or difficulty in sleeping and difficulty concentrating)

Barriers to Treatment for PTSD

Some things that prevent those suffering from PTSD from seeking help include:

  1. Worries about losing employment or finding future employment
  2. Worries of losing one’s security clearance
  3. Stigma
  4. Not understanding PTSD symptoms

In the documentary, one young veteran explained how service members may overlook or not understand PTSD symptoms, at least in the deployment setting.  This veteran mentioned that it can be difficult for deployed service members to recognize PTSD because everyone in combat has the same symptoms.  He described situations where service members are weary of being around each other all day, every day.  Many of them have trouble sleeping in uncomfortable conditions.  Some service members talk in their sleep, and they often sleep in the same rooms and hear one another talking.  People become agitated easily, and this is just one result of living together under difficult combat conditions.

In the situation I just described, it seems logical that service members may have trouble identifying members (or themselves) experiencing PTSD until they return home and are no longer all living together.

Programs to Help

Some physical activity programs have shown promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD.  These programs include:

  1. Yoga
  2. Acupuncture
  3. Martial Arts

One of the veterans interviewed for the documentary has an older brother who is also a veteran.  Listening to the younger brother describe how his older brother dealt with PTSD through alcohol abuse was very sad and really illustrated to me the difficulty in treating some veterans who suffer with PTSD.  Veterans in the same family suffering from the same condition experience very different results, even though the documentary does not delve into the reasons for these differences.

The documentary lasts a little over one hour, and it is well worth your time if you have a chance to watch it.

 

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Are National Guard Members and Reservists Eligible for VA Disability Compensation?

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The short answer to this question is: yes!  Members of the National Guard and reservists may qualify for VA disability compensation.  Qualifying for disability compensation requires some amount of active duty service time, though.

For members of the National Guard or reservists, qualifying service time includes periods of active duty service, which many reservists and National Guard members experience over the course of their careers.  Deployment during war-time is one type of active duty.

National Guard members may also qualify to receive VA disability compensation benefits through full-time National Guard duty, like emergency response to a national emergency.

When members of the National Guard or reservists are activated by a state rather than by the federal government, this period of state service does not count towards active duty benefits available through the VA because it is service to a state rather than to the federal government, and this service is paid out of state funds.

If a member of the National Guard or a reservist has completed an active duty service commitment, he or she may be eligible for VA disability compensation if the disability was the result of an injury or disease incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during active duty or active duty for training.

When a member of the National Guard or a reservist is injured during inactive duty training, he or she may only be eligible for VA disability compensation if the disability is the result of an injury, a heart attack, or a stroke.  So, the types of conditions compensated for injuries experienced during inactive duty training are very specific.

In addition to the above listed requirements, to qualify for VA disability compensation, a National Guard member or reservist must be at least 10% disabled by the condition for which the member is claiming compensation.  The individual’s discharge must also be “under other than dishonorable conditions.”

 

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VA Automobile Allowance and Adaptive Equipment Allowance

Car Close-upA veteran with certain service-connected disabilities may qualify for an automobile allowance.  As of this writing, the cap on this benefit is $19,817.00, and these funds are to be paid directly to the individual or business selling the vehicle.

Who is eligible for this allowance?  Active duty service members or veterans with a) service-connected disabilities or b) disabilities that are treated as service-connected are eligible.  In addition to these requirements, the following must also be met:

  • Loss of one or both feet, or permanent loss of use of one or both feet, or
  • Loss of one or both hands, or permanent loss of use of one or both hands, or
  • Permanent vision impairment of both eyes.

An automobile allowance may only be paid to the veteran once during his or her lifetime, and the veteran should wait until the VA approves the automobile allowance before purchasing a vehicle.  As mentioned previously, the VA pays the seller of the vehicle directly rather than paying or reimbursing the veteran or service member.  In order to demonstrate the veteran’s eligibility for this allowance, the following specific information should be shown:

  • The veteran lost at least one hand or foot OR the veteran has a permanent loss of use of at least one hand or one foot, or
  • Permanent damage to both eyes with
    • 20/200 vision or less in the better eye when wearing glasses, or
    • Better than 20/200 vision, but a severe deficiency in peripheral vision

Veterans that do not qualify for  an automobile allowance may still qualify for an adaptive equipment allowance.  This allowance includes power steering, power brakes, power windows, and other equipment, including equipment designed to help the veteran or service member enter or exit the vehicle.  Veterans and active duty service members may qualify for the adaptive equipment allowance if the following criteria are met:

  • Loss of one or both feet, or permanent loss of use of one or both feet, or
  • Loss of one or both hands, or permanent loss of use of one or both hands, or
  • Permanent vision impairment of both eyes, or
  • Ankylosis in one or both knees or hips, and
  • The above listed conditions are service related or treated as service related by the VA.

To apply for both an automobile allowance and an adaptive equipment allowance, VA Form 21-4502 may be used.  To apply for an adaptive equipment allowance only, VA Form 10-1394 may be used.

 

 

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How to Get Your C-File

Microscope C-file blog

Last week, our blog discussed what a C-file (claims file) is and why it is important to veterans seeking VA benefits.  Today, our blog focuses on how to get your C-file from the VA.  If your claim for disability compensation or pension has been denied, your C-file is very important to appealing your claim.

Here are a few ways to request your C-file:

  1. Travel to your local VA Regional Office and request a copy of your C-file.
  2. Complete VA Form 3288 and mail it to your VA Regional Office.
  3. Submit a FOIA request to the VA.

Of these methods, submitting a FOIA request may result in obtaining your C-file faster than the other two methods, and it doesn’t require travel, which may make it an easier option for many veterans.

If you would prefer to travel to your VA Regional Office to request your C-file, calling ahead to schedule an appointment might be helpful so the VA knows you are coming and what you are seeking.  This doesn’t mean a copy of your C-file will be ready for you as soon as you arrive at the VA, and even with an appointment, it may take you awhile to actually receive a copy of your C-file.  It never hurts to schedule an appointment, though, in the hopes it will speed up the time you wait for your C-file.

The second option listed is to complete VA Form 3288.  This option might work for you, but based on our experience, you will probably receive your C-file faster by a) traveling to your VA regional office to request it, or b) submitting a FOIA request, which is explained in the below paragraph.  Still, completing this form is an option.

The third option is to submit a FOIA request for your C-file.  The VA’s website even provides a brief explanation about making a FOIA request.  If you submit a FOIA request, keep these requirements in mind (they are also listed on the VA’s website in the above link):

  • The request must be in writing.
  • The request should adequately describe the documents, such as the C-file.
  • The request should include a phone number or email address where you may be reached.
  • The request should be sent to the correct facility.  In the case of a FOIA request for a veteran’s C-file, here is the list of VA regional offices and their FOIA officers posted on the VA website as of October 11, 2014.  A veteran’s FOIA request should generally be sent to the FOIA officer at the veteran’s regional office.

Another requirement listed on the VA’s website is the FOIA request should mention the requester agrees to pay fees or asks for a fee waiver while also providing a reason for the fee waiver.  However, veterans are eligible to receive the first copy of their C-file for free.  After a veteran receives his or her first copy of the C-file, though, he or she would need to pay fees associated with producing additional copies or request a waiver of fees.

Here is a sample FOIA request provided on the VA’s website.

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C-Files Are Crucial for VA Disability Compensation Claims

C-File Blog

C-files are crucial for VA disability compensation claims for several reasons.  When I first became VA accredited and began reviewing VA disability compensation cases, I did not know exactly what a claims file (C-file) was, but I knew it was important.  Every continuing legal education seminar I attended mentioned the importance of the C-file.  Why is it so crucial to a VA claim?  The short answer is: it tells what information the VA used to decide a veteran’s claim, whether the claim was granted, denied, or granted with a lower rating than the veteran believes to be accurate.

If a veteran has a PTSD diagnosis, but this diagnosis does not appear in the veteran’s C-file, this means the VA did not consider this diagnosis in making its initial decision on the claim.  Maybe a veteran’s C-file contains information on two different veterans, perhaps with similar names or Social Security numbers.  This could cause the VA to make an incorrect decision regarding the veteran’s claim.  Just because a veteran has been diagnosed with a certain condition doesn’t mean the VA considered that diagnosis or other information related to it.  If the information is not in the C-file, the VA did not consider it.

This is why it is so important for a veteran to obtain his or her C-file once the veteran’s claim has been initially decided by the VA Regional Office.  Reviewing the C-file helps the veteran prepare for an appeal by having a better understanding of how the VA reached its decision.  Information that may be in a veteran’s C-file includes:

  • Personnel Records
  • Medical Records, including the Compensation and Pension Exam (C&P)
  • Denial Letter (if applicable)
  • Ratings Decision and Code Sheet
  • Initial Application for Benefits
  • DD Form 214 (DD214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty)

Depending on your particular claim and the stage you are in the process of it (initial appeal, second appeal), your C-file may contain more documents, too.

Once a veteran receives his or her C-file, the veteran may find the documents are not in order and are challenging to understand.  This is not uncommon, and it may take some time to put your C-file together in a way that makes sense to you and helps you see how the VA reached its decision.  Some C-files are also very lengthy.  Don’t give up!  Once the C-file is organized, it is an invaluable tool for every stage of the appeals process.

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