FamilyOfaVet - Real world info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat
FamilyOfaVet - Real World info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat.

PTSD & The VA Compensation Process
the first and most difficult step

My wife asked me quite a while ago to write an article to post on this site.  Well, three
months later I have finally found the nerve and the motivation to get started.  Even though I
have helped many of my vet brothers get through the claim and
C&P (Compensation &
Pension) process
, I still find it very difficult to put my thoughts and suggestions into words
when it’s not face-to-face.

First and foremost, a vet with PTSD (
post-traumatic stress disorder) will find it almost
impossible to force themselves to enter the process.  This is due to the fact that they
refuse to accept that they really want or need help.  I call it the “I’m a tough guy and I can
get through anything without help from anyone syndrome.”  But, I have learned that the
older we get the more difficulty we have suppressing those old memories, and the more
willing we are to seek help.

Invariably, VETS with PTSD who have either withdrawn from society, or have found work or
hobbies that keep their thoughts at bay, or spousal pressure will eventually succumb to the
realization that some sort of help is necessary. Then, and only then, will they muster the
internal drive necessary to lead them down the path of recovery.

The first and most difficult step is to seek out and talk to their County Veterans Service
Officer.  These individuals will help you in getting the claim initiated.  This will be a very
intense part of the process as you will have to talk about “things” that will be difficult to
bring up from your past.  I have actually walked vets in and introduced them to one of our
service officers and told them, “this is Mr. X. and he has
PTSD.”  Please help him.  I then
wait in parking lot for the 45 minutes or so for them to finish.  A majority of the vets come
outside still red-faced with tears in their eyes.  We will talk for a while and only after he
returns to some sort of calmness do I explain that it will get much worse before it gets
better.  What I mean is that now you have ripped the scabs off your old wounds and you
will start having more disturbing thoughts about those memories you have tried to stuff for
years.  Depression, bad dreams, short tempers, is but a few of the things you will
experience at this point forward.  THE CLOCK STARTS HERE.

Fortunately, help is on the way.  The Veterans Administration will almost immediately
contact a doctor in your area.  This doctor will either be employed by the VA (if a clinic or
hospital is within reasonable distance to you), or a doctor in your area that is properly
trained in dealing with
PTSD.  The latter is my case.  That individual will contact you to
schedule an appointment.  In my case it took less than a week to get started.  This step in
the process is even more difficult to get through than the first.  In my case, I was given
some sort of a written test with four multiple choice answers.  Please answer these
questions honestly, and truthfully.  I did not, and it caused me some issues that needed to
be dealt with later on down the road.  I down-played some of my answers and it took a while
for my doctor to get down to some of my real issues.  After three sessions or so with him,
he provided his assessment of what he determined my level of PTSD to be, the percentage
he believed it could be reduced by with treatment, and sent that evaluation on to the VA.  
They, in turn, authorized continued treatment for me with this doctor in an individual and
“group therapy” environment.

These sessions will continue while the VA is processing your claim.  Don’t hold your
breath.  The claim can take quite a while to get approved.  You should continue your
individual and group sessions as long as you and your doctor deem necessary to receive
the full benefit of the counseling.  Although I am now at a point where I believe I have
attained a level of understanding of my issues and how to appropriately deal with them, I
still try to attend as many group sessions as possible to help the new-bees get through the
process.  I truly believe that sharing my experience with the process has helped many
understand what they have to withstand in the future.

At some point, you will be scheduled to see one of the VA mental health doctors.  He or
she will determine what level and type of medication will best suit you.  I was reluctant at
first, but relented.  The change in my demeanor and behavior was almost immediate.  
Within days, I felt like a human being again.  No spikes in my anger and no depressive
lows.  I call it being flat-lined.  Not dead of course, but very stable.  I was able to think
before I reacted.  My wife noticed the change as well and welcomed it with warm smiles and
lots of hugs.

The counseling continues.  Then at a point in the future you will be scheduled for a
compensation and pension review
.  This is the point when you meet with another
doctor independent of the ones you have been seeing.  This individual will have most all
the information, evaluations, recommendations, and prescribed medications in front of
them.  This is difficult for most of us Nam Vets, as service and medical records are lost,
destroyed, or incomplete.  A question and answer period will ensue.  Answer all questions
honestly and thoroughly.  Do not hesitate to be forthcoming.  Ask questions of the doctor if
you are not sure what is being asked of you.  Make sure you have clarification.  Be careful
of leading questions.  Example:  A fellow vet was asked, “Were you frightened when your
chopper crashed”?  Answer:  “Yea, I was frightened.”  The doctor told the VA that this door
gunner was frightened, but not horrified or thought he was going to die and suggested that
he had no PTSD as a result of this incident.  Once that comment was read and shared with
me, the two of us could have given that doctor a rather detailed exhibition of how vets with
PTSD can spike and react on the spot.  This case is currently under review and appeal.  
So, don’t just accept the terminology they use.  Put everything in your perspective.

Hopefully, they will concur with the findings in “your case”, approve your claim and forward
their recommendation to the VA.   If you were not told anything at the end of your C&P, do
not hesitate to ask, “Well, what do you think, doc.”  Most will support your claim and tell you
so.  The “Board” will review everything once again and either approve/disapprove your
claim.  If it was approved, happy days, if not, back to the drawing board and time to review
all you and your doctor submitted, adjust as necessary and file an appeal.

Approval means that you have been determined to have a level of PTSD, and depending
on that level (in percentages) you will receive financial compensation commensurate
thereto.  This is in addition to any other awards you may have previously received or about
to receive.  Remember earlier in my writing I stated, “THE CLOCK STARTS HERE?”   Well
here is where that comes into play.  From the very date that you first filed your claim with
the County Service Officer, you have established the date you will be paid retroactive to
once your claim has been approved.  In some cases that can be two years of back pay at
amount determined by your percentage (level) of PTSD.

When I received my claim approval for
PTSD (80%), I actually cried.  The instant relief that
came over me was overwhelming.  My first thoughts were that my government has
acknowledged how my life has been affected by the 18 months I spent in VietNam.  That
they were going to continue to help me return to some sort of normalcy.  For me, it was not
about the money, although nice, it was more about the recognition for what I had
volunteered to do, and the continued help I would receive for the physical and mental pain
as a result of that service.

When I first started my claim, there were many requirements to prove that you were where
you were, and did or saw what you saw, and how that affected you then and now.  The
responsibility was yours alone to substantiate the validity your claim.  My understanding
now is that you only have to show you were in a combat zone.  Your doctors will determine
how that affected you and submit their findings to the board for
PTSD C&P review.

The claims process, as a whole, is long, cumbersome, and a royal pain.  Remember it’s
worth it in the end.


NAM VET – 1968/69

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