Guest Post: Written by Elizabeth Horn of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia

Jonathan is a veteran who served three deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. During his 4th deployment he experienced the “signature wound” of these wars, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which results when sudden trauma disrupts the function of the brain. Common causes of TBI in war include exposure to explosive devices, falls, and motor vehicle accidents. Most recently, war-related TBI’s can be traced back to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) commonly used against Coalition Forces. Jonathan’s brain trauma occurred when the vehicle he was in drove over an IED. He sustained a severe TBI.

TBI’s range from mild to severe. The Veterans Affairs (VA) pays disability benefits to qualifying individuals based on severity and can be eligible up to a 100% disability rating. In 2008 the VA increased the disability rating for Vets with TBI.

If you are a military veteran with a service-related TBI you may qualify for compensation ranging from $100 to more than $3,000 in monthly benefits. Jonathan’s benefit is on the high end of the range due to a 100% P&T rating.

What Jonathan didn’t know is that a veteran may also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits though the program and criteria are different from the VA’s. You may be eligible for disability benefits from Social Security if you have worked at least five years out of the last ten years which includes your earnings from military service. Unlike the VA that can grant partial disability, SSDI requires a veteran to prove that he or she is unable to perform any full time work for at least one year. This includes simple, sedentary jobs.

In 2014 the Social Security Administration (SSA) began expediting disability claims filed by veterans who have a 100% Permanent & Total (P&T) disability rating. SSA recognizes that a person with a 100% P&T rating, particularly from a TBI related injury, is likely to automatically meet the qualifications for SSDI. Normally, it can take up to a year or more for SSDI to be approved. Jonathan’s benefits came through in 3 months! He benefited from his case being fast tracked as his family depended on him for income.

The disAbility Law Center of Virginia (dLCV) handles benefit denials for people appealing social security claims. To avoid the lengthy appeals dLCV instructed

Jonathan on how to apply for these benefits. Disability Rights Advocate Elizabeth Horn explains: “When you apply in person or over the phone identify yourself or the individual you are assisting as a veteran rated 100% P&T, or, if you file online simply state this in the “Remarks” section of the application. You should also supply Social Security with your VA notification letter which verifies your rating”.

You can find more information at: www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-US-10017.pdf

and www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm.

If you are a veteran and have questions about social security disability benefits you can contact the disAbility Law Center of Virginia at 804-225-2042 or (800)552-3962 (TTY/VOICE) or email: info@dLCV.org

Written By: Jennifer Kahl 

Last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) agreed to reevaluate the less-than-honorable discharges of Vietnam veterans whose behavior may have been a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD was not identified as a mental illness until 1980, so the behavior that warranted these less-favorable discharges may have been symptoms of the untreated illness. The new guidelines set out by the DOD will give these veterans the opportunity to appeal their discharges, opening up new opportunities for education, disability and housing benefits, and veteran’s health care.

The decision by the DOD indicates that the Department is acknowledging, at least to a certain degree, the “Catch-22” in which victims of PTSD are often caught. Though PTSD is often a service-related disease that should qualify the individual for benefits, when misunderstood, its symptoms may disqualify the veteran by resulting in a less-than-honorable discharge. The veteran is then caught in a vicious cycle: he cannot qualify for benefits because of his PTSD, and he cannot get treatment for his PTSD because he has no benefits. However, this risk of being caught in this cycle is not limited to Vietnam veterans. Just because the diagnosis was recognized in 1980 does not mean that all veterans suffering from PTSD after that date were correctly diagnosed. Even today, service men and women who are facing discipline for misconduct and behavioral problems are only given a medical evaluation if they claim PTSD as a mitigating factor. If they are discharged for bad conduct and are later diagnosed, they will find themselves caught in the same trap as their Vietnam comrades.

Though last week’s decision does not address the full scope of the problem, it will hopefully initiate progress for all affected veterans.

Sources:

 

Philipps, Dave. New Rules May Allow Benefits Long Denied to Vietnam-Era Veterans. The New York Times, Sept 3, 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/04/us/va-rules-may-enable-benefits-long-denied-to-vietnam-era-veterans.html?_r=0>.

 

Tilghman, Andrew. DoD Willing to Reconsider Discharges of Vietnam Vets With PTSD. Military Times, September 3, 2014. <http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140903/ NEWS05/309030039/DoD-willing-reconsider-discharges-Vietnam-vets-PTSD>.

 

Zoroya, Gregg. Forced-Out Vets Get Chance to Argue PTSD Claims. USA Today, September 3, 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/03/vietnam-veterans-discharge-ptsd-upgrade/15043781/>.