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/>.

 

By: Michael Althouse

For those of us who have not served in the military, it may be difficult to fully understand the experiences of combat.  There are extremely few circumstances in civilian life that mirror a solider in a combat zone.  When a civilian like myself is working with combat veterans, it is therefore useful to try to increase our understanding of the combat experience.  While it will be impossible to entirely comprehend what the veteran has gone through, a deeper understanding can help us better relate to the veteran’s struggles, their activities post-deployment, and possibly more easily recognize actions as symptomatic of PTSD and other combat-related disabilities.    One simple tool to gain this deeper understanding is to view films that accurately portray the combat experience.  The following is a short list of recommended viewing, with notes explaining their selection.

Restrepo

            This documentary follows a group of soldiers during 2007 in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan.  The film intersperses the footage from Afghanistan with post-deployment interviews of the soldiers involved.  This technique allows the viewer to both see the events a soldier experienced in combat while simultaneously learning how that experience effected them physically and emotionally.  The film does not hold back any punches: some of the soldiers in the film die.  For those of us who have no reference point for military combat in our lives, the experience of watching this film can be and incredibly jarring introduction to the realities of combat life.

Now, After[1]

            Now, After is a short film made by SSG Kyle Hausmann-Stokes after he returned from Iraq.  The story is told from a returning soldier’s point of view, and graphically depicts how the effects of combat can interfere with daily civilian life.  This film is particularly useful for those seeking to better understand the often times confusing actions from sufferers of PTSD.  It may be surprising to see how routine moments in daily life can trigger flashbacks to a veteran’s time in service.

 

60 Minutes Presents: Honoring Our Troops[2]

            On May 24, 2012, the news program 60 Minutes dedicated an entire episode to stories from veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The film contains some on-the-ground footage, but it is mostly told through interviews of the veterans recounting their experiences in combat and returning home.  The second segment of the episode in particular recounts the difficulties many combat veterans face returning to civilian life and coping with disabilities.

 

These films are a useful starting point for anyone wishing to better understand the experience of combat veterans.  While it will not give the viewer a complete understanding of the experience, the films will impart a sense of what combat veterans have faced, and how it has affected their lives.

 



[1] Viewable at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkWwZ9ZtPEI.

[2] Viewable at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7409672n.

Written by Paul Silver

In 2008 2-16 Infantry, part of the 1st Infantry Division stationed out of Fort Riley, Kansas deployed to Baghdad Iraq. For many of the Soldiers in the Battalion it was not their first trip to a combat zone. In fact, Finkle was with the unit and wrote the book The Good Soldiers about the combat operations undertaken by the men of 2-16. Thank You For Your Service, however, picks up with the after-war. It begins with Staff Sergeant Adam Schumman, who is waiting for a helicopter in Baghdad Iraq. Schumman is wounded. His evacuation from theater is deemed urgent. However, Schumman hasn’t been shot, no IED has detonated under his truck. By all accounts he is in good physical health. However, Schumman has given up on living. The stress of over 1,000 days of combat have finally caught up with him and now the Army has made the decision to send him home. Over the next 1,000 days Schumman and his wife Sascha will fight a new series of battles to finally bring Adam home.

From there Finkle takes the reader on an emotional tour de force examining the lives of Soldiers, widows and family members all of whom, like Schumman, are engaged in the battle that follows a return from combat. Through their struggles he paints the narrative of the approximately 500,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned with either PTSD or TBI, the “hallmark wounds” of the War on Terrorism. Finkle gets inside of the Soldier’s marriages and mental health treatment. He documents their nightmares and insecurities. He juxtaposes all of these with the five words most often uttered by civilians who don’t know how to engage with veterans, “thank you for your service.” What follows then is a portrait of veterans issues more broadly as told by the veterans themselves. Finkle’s book gives urgency to Veteran’s issues and underscores the damage of combat. He does it not just through Schumman’s PTSD, but through other men in his unit and through their families. It is the story of the civil-military divide and the war that in many cases has already been forgotten and uneasily brushed aside with a brusque sentence, “thank you for your service.”

As a veteran myself, I read this book and was mesmerized by it, I found the author to truly understand the plight of returning Soldiers. He captured their grief and their alienation and makes it real for the reader. As a student in the Lewis B. Puller Jr. Clinic, I feel that this book needs to be read by incoming students. It is the sort of material that makes the issues students are about to engage with real. The emotionally wrenching anecdotes give clarity and focus the talking about issues such as PTSD, TBI and survivor’s guilt. The book does not shy away from the issues at any point. It shows the turmoil of Schumman’s perceived failure and weakness on his relationship with his family; an issue that is certainly germane to clinic intake interviews. Furthermore, the book does a fantastic job at underscoring that though a veteran’s wounds may not be visible, it does not mean that they do not exist and that they are not debilitating.