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VA DECISIONS HELPING PTSD APPLICANTS

Decisions of the VA are often very favorable to individuals claiming benefits because of PTSD.   Here are some of those useful precedents, together with a brief analysis.

Rule # 1 General Rule

 

There must be competent medical evidence of record that links the veteran’s military service to his diagnosis of PTSD.  In addition, there must be at least two credible corroborating statements of record to support the veteran’s account of his stressor incident[s].  Citation Nr: 0802855; Decision Date: 01/25/08; Archive Date: 02/04/08

 

Rule # 2 Three-part test

 

Establishing service connection for PTSD requires three things: (1) medical evidence diagnosing PTSD; (2) credible supporting evidence that the claimed in-service stressor actually occurred; and (3) medical evidence linking current symptomatology to the claimed in-service stressor.  38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f) (2007). See Cohen v. Brown, 10 Vet. App. 128 (1997); see also Friedman, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: An Overview, http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professionalpages/ptsd-overview.asp.

 

Rule # 3:  Relaxed standards for PTSD

 

For PTSD, there is a special, relaxed evidentiary standard.  See Nathaniel J. Doan & Barbara C. Morton, Establishing Service Connection for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A Proposed Amendment to the Stressor Verification Requirement.

 

Rule # 4: Specifics of PTSD claims

 

Defined.   PTSD is “an anxiety disorder caused by exposure to an intensely traumatic event….”  This disorder is “characterized by re-experiencing the traumatic event in recurrent intrusive recollections, nightmares, or flashbacks, by avoidance of trauma-associated stimuli, by generalized numbing of emotional responsiveness, and by hyper alertness and difficulty in sleeping, remembering, or concentrating…the onset of symptoms may be delayed for months to years after the event.”  The stressor need not necessarily be just one episode.

 

Umbrella rating formula. VA precedents explain that, generally speaking, psychiatric disorders – regardless of their specific diagnosis (PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.) – are all rated under 38 C.F.R. § 4.130 and the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders.

A unique disease.  PTSD is unique among the disabilities for which the VA offers compensation.  The disease/injury may involve combat or non-combat events.  Furthermore, it need not be sustained during military service in order for compensation to be awarded.   The veteran is simply required to demonstrate a “stressor” episode while serving in uniform – a traumatic event experiencing, witnessing, or confronting actual or threatened death/serious injury.

 

Evidentiary requirements.  The record must contain “credible supporting evidence” to establish the claimed stressful event.  It is acceptable PTSD medical evidence if the petitioner can show a diagnosis of PTSD at any time after military service and provide a link between the current diagnosis and the in-service stressor.  Credible supporting evidence of a non-combat stressor does not necessarily demand official evidence.   Other possible sources include involvement in a plane crash, car crash, shipwreck, explosion, rape or assault, witnessing a death, or duty on a burn ward or graves registration unit [emphasis added].  See Citation Nr: 1140463 Decision Date: 11/01/11    Archive Date: 11/16/11

Another disorder – not PTSD?  What if the indicated psychiatric disorder is not PTSD?   No problem.  The precise and exact characterization of the disorder is not crucial.  The key is the applicant’s symptoms.  The crucial question is this: Is the claimed stressor consistent with the circumstances, conditions, or hardships of the petitioner’s service?  See 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f) (2011); see also Cohen v. Brown, 10 Vet. App. 128, 140 (1997).

 

Presumption in PTSD cases.  In Cohen, supra, the Court stressed that where a diagnosis of PTSD has been made, decision makers must presume the sufficiency of the claimed stressor.  Moreover, according to Mittleider v. West, 11 Vet. App. 181, 182 (1998), if it is impossible to separate the effects of the service-connected PTSD from a nonservice-connected condition like depression or bipolar disorder, reasonable doubt should be resolved in the veteran’s favor.

 


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