The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy

The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy: May 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rating PTSD for Military Disability

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), like all mental disorders, is very hard to define. Basically, two people with PTSD could have completely different symptoms. Because of this, different physicians may use different requirements to diagnose PTSD, and thus a condition that one physician considers PTSD may not be considered PTSD by another physician.

Do you feel like this guy yet?

The VASRD, the law that determines how conditions are rated for DoD Disability and VA Disability, has its own set of requirements for diagnosing PTSD. These requirements must be followed for a condition to receive a military disability rating for PTSD, even if a qualified physician diagnoses the condition as PTSD.

Before anything else, there must be documentation that the service member was involved in a traumatic event. This means that the service member/veteran must have records that say that he experienced combat or another traumatic event. The traumatic event MUST have occurred while he was in the military.

There must also be documentation of a definite diagnosis of PTSD from a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist.  A diagnosis by itself is not enough for a rating of PTSD, but it is still required.

Once these basic requirements are met, the condition must also have all the required symptoms/circumstances that the VASRD dictates are necessary for a rating of PTSD. I won’t get into the specifics of those here since they are thoroughly explained in our discussion of rating PTSD on our website. Do note, however, that the requirements under each category must be met in order for the condition to be considered PTSD. Each of these symptoms must also be documented by a physician.

As long as you have the proper documentation and your condition meets all the requirements for PTSD, your condition can definitely be rated as PTSD.

If your condition does not meet the requirements for PTSD, however, it’s not the end of the world. Truthfully, a rating of PTSD isn’t exactly essential.

PTSD is ultimately rated on the same system as every other mental disorder (the Psychological Rating System), so even if your condition can’t be officially called PTSD, your physician could diagnose you with a different mental disorder that doesn’t have so many requirements, like another Anxiety Disorder, and you would still receive the same rating and benefits you would receive if your diagnosis was PTSD.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fighting the Military Disability and VA Disability Systems

The Military Disability system was designed with the intent to properly and fairly compensate all disabled American veterans for any disabilities caused by military service. Even with all the best intentions, however, the system sadly falls short all too often.

There is nothing more frustrating than feeling trapped in an unfair system, and too many of our veterans are wasting their efforts trying to fight the system in the wrong ways.

So what can you do that will do the most good? When does fighting just waste your time and effort (and maybe even money)?

First, educating yourself about the system and how it works is of the upmost importance. We founded for exactly this purpose. When I worked for the PDBR, it was clear that the majority of veterans who applied were completely clueless about how the system actually worked, and it wasn’t really their fault. They had been given wrong or incomplete information somewhere along the line, and the majority of their frustration came from simply not having the right information. With the right info, you’ll be able to easily resolve the majority of the problems you face.

If you have all the info and are doing everything correctly, but are not satisfied with a decision that is made somewhere along the way, there is a system in place for you to appeal that decision. It is very important that you follow this process. People outside the official appeals system do not have the power to make any changes, so continuing to argue your case with them will only frustrate you and them and not get anything really done. Filling out the forms to file an appeal may not feel as satisfying as yelling at the poor schlup who answers the phone at the VA office, but it’s much more likely to do you good.

Now, if you’ve done everything right—submitted all the right information, made your case airtight, etc.—and your appeal is denied, what do you do? From here, you have only two options: continue to appeal to higher courts or accept your ratings for now and try to get the laws themselves changed.

Continuing the appeals process could be an extremely long, tough, expensive road, but it may be worth it in some cases. If your appeals are all denied, this is the only option that could get your ratings changed. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs has the right to override the laws in special cases. So, if you are trapped in a technicality of the law that is clearly unfair, you may be able to get the Secretary to make an exception in your case. To get to him, however, you have to first go through the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Many veterans who pursue their cases this far choose to higher a lawyer to help. It is an option that could become very expensive and may ultimately not do any good. For some, though, it has been totally worth the fight. That choice is ultimately up to you.   

But if you choose not to continue to appeal, does that mean that you just have to sit back and take it? No. While you may not have the power to get your ratings changed now, you do have the power to influence Congress to fix the faulty laws. Write a letter to your Congressman explaining the details of your case and how the laws have failed to give you the proper compensation you deserve. You may feel that this option is pointless. Will a Congressman really care about your case? Believe it or not, the treatment and welfare of our veterans is a BIG issue in Congress right now. Many bills are in Congress, many changes are being proposed. Now is a great time to let your voice be heard.

Ultimately, there are far too many veterans who are being harmed because of the shortcomings in the laws governing military disability. If you are one of them, it may seem that you are trapped, but there are still ways you can being proactive and help work toward positive change for the future.

Big News:

This is a bit of an early announcement, but we want to get the excitement going. The VASRD, the law that governs how conditions are rated for DoD Disability and VA Disability, is currently being rewritten. They will be releasing the new changes one section at a time, inviting feedback on the changes before they are finalized.

As each section is released, we will be posting the changes on this blog and inviting all of you to comment. Let us know what you think of the changes. Are there things they missed? Do the changes seem fair? What loopholes do you see? Once we collect all of your thoughts and insights, we’ll include them in an official document that we’ll submit to the Congressional Committee. They must consider all the documents submitted before they can finalize a law.

Join with us and let your voice be truly heard!

We’ll keep you informed as we get closer to those changes being released.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Rating Arthritis for Military Disability

Determining a military disability rating for arthritis can be frustrating, to say the least. I’m just going to get this out of the way right off the bat: It totally makes me feel like this guy.

There are all sorts of tricky rules in the VASRD that must be considered when rating arthritis. And having other conditions affecting a joint in addition to arthritis just complicates things even more. If you are a disabled American veteran with arthritis, I will do my best to help you understand how your arthritis should be rated.

First rule that you must understand: All joints will only receive ONE rating for the overall condition of that joint, regardless of the number of conditions that affect it. So, if you have arthritis and a meniscus condition in your knee, you can only receive a rating for one of the two conditions, whichever gives the higher rating. So, if your arthritis gives a higher rating than the meniscus condition, then it is rated, and the other is ignored. Only one rating per joint.

There are a couple of conditions that are an exception to this rule, but if you have one of these conditions, our discussion about that condition on our site will clearly say that you can rate it in addition to other conditions that affect that joint. If it doesn’t clearly state this, then it doesn’t apply. Only one rating for the entire joint.

Now that we understand that, let’s jump into arthritis. The VASRD rates two main types of arthritis: Degenerative Arthritis (code 5003), and Rheumatoid Arthritis (code 5002). All other types of arthritis or similar conditions are rated analogously as degenerative or rheumatoid, whichever is the most similar.

If your condition is Rheumatoid Arthritis or is rated as Rheumatoid Arthritis, it’s your lucky day! The ratings for Rheumatoid Arthritis are fairly straightforward. No serious complications or confusion for you. Just follow the instructions on our site, and you’ll be pretty good to go. Woo-hoo!

If your condition is Degenerative Arthritis or is rated as Degenerative Arthritis (by far the most common), it is not your lucky day. You have to hang in there with me as I explain things step by step. Sorry.

All right, Degenerative Arthritis… Let’s start off with assuming that only ONE joint has arthritis in the entire body. The key to Degenerative Arthritis is that if there is any limited motion AT ALL in the affected joint, then the condition MUST be rated on limited motion of that joint. So, if you have arthritis in your knee, and you cannot bend it all the way, then it is rated once on limited motion of the knee, code 5260. That is the one and only rating, and you are done.

Now if you have trouble both bending and straightening your knee all the way (they are two different codes for the knee), then you would pick the code that would give you the higher rating. So if the inability to bend gives a higher rating than the inability to straighten, then that is what is rated, and you are done.

Side Note: Because limited motion is so vital to rating arthritis, it is essential that your physicians record the exact range of motion measurements for your affected joints. If these measurements aren’t properly recorded, you will not receive the correct ratings you deserve. Physicians often don't know how things are rated, and so they may not realize this. Be proactive to make sure this is done. It is vital for both your DoD Disability and your VA Disability

Now, if you don’t have limited motion, then your condition is rated as Degenerative Arthritis under code 5003. Here is the most confusing part of rating Degenerative Arthritis: all joints in the body that are rated as Degenerative Arthritis are combined, and only one rating given for all the joints. (If you just screamed “What the heck?!” – don’t worry, I did too.)

So let’s jump to having multiple joints with Degenerative Arthritis. This will best be explained by using an example.

Joe has four joints that have Degenerative Arthritis or conditions that are rated as Degenerative Arthritis, his right elbow, his right wrist, his left knee, and his left ankle. All the conditions must first be rated on limited motion if there is any, and if they have limited motion, then they can each be rated SEPARATELY. So, both his elbow and his ankle do not have any limited motion, but his wrist and knee do. So, he receives one rating for limited motion of the wrist, and a second for limited motion of the knee. These both are finished.

Since his elbow and ankle do not have any limited motion, then they are both rated as Degenerative Arthritis under code 5003. Under this code, these joints will be combined, so they will only receive ONE rating for both of them. Carefully read how code 5003 works, and this should make sense.

Ultimately, Joe will only have a total of three ratings for his four conditions, instead of four separate ratings.

That’s it. Hopefully that didn’t just create more questions than it answered. Carefully read our discussions of Degenerative Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, and hopefully this will make sense to you. Rating arthritis is second only to rating TBI in its complexity, so take it slow.

Hopefully I have been able to help!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The #1 Most Important Thing To Do when Separating from the Military

So, you’re starting the process of military disability separation. What’s the most important thing you should do that no one will tell you to do? 

Get a COMPLETE copy of your medical records.

Now, make sure you don’t go in and just request your medical records. They won’t give them to you. Instead, request a complete COPY of them, including labs, x-rays and all consultations. All disabled veterans are entitled to receive a copy according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Although you are legally entitled to a copy, the medical facility that has your records may charge you for the copy. Don’t even hesitate if they do this. Though the cost could be pretty high considering that medical records can be gigantic, it is totally worth every penny to have all your medical records at your fingertips.

Your medical records are the key to both your DoD Disability and your VA Disability. If a condition is not noted anywhere in your medical records, it makes it really hard to prove service-connection and thus qualify for disability. These records are the evidence you need to prove that you deserve every penny of your military disability pay and VA disability benefits. As long as you have access to them, you have the ability and power to properly submit a VA disability claim and appeal any incorrect ratings given by the Physical Evaluation Board or the VA. 

The #1 tool for maximizing your military disability? Documentation, documentation, documentation!