Updated November 2019
We invited Veteran Law Expert, Anthony Marsh II, Attorney at Law, back as a guest blogger to give helpful tips for navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs for your aging veteran loved one.
Today, more than ever, mental health is a pressing issue that none of us can ignore. This, of course, wasn’t always the case. Mental health has historically been an uncomfortable and often shameful topic. This is especially true for our aging Veterans. Below you’ll find some tips for helping an aging veteran get the treatment and compensation they deserve through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Your aging loved one has been around a lot longer than PTSD has.
Elderly veterans were subject to many of the same conditions and traumatic experiences as younger veterans, if not worse in many cases. The big difference is that mental health treatment was not as readily available, advanced or socially acceptable as it is today. Many of our elderly veterans are from an era where you just had to “suck it up”. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association did not officially recognize PTSD as a diagnosed mental disorder until 1980. With this in mind, even if veterans complained of a mental disorder, it is likely that they were diagnosed with a totally separate disorder that did not take into consideration the causes and symptoms of what we know to be PTSD today. For this reason, many aging veterans suffering from PTSD seemingly had no source of recompense until many decades after service.
The race has hurdles.
While every veteran (especially a combat veteran) is encouraged to pursue mental health treatment, it should be understood that veterans who wish to be compensated for PTSD are in for an entirely different process than that of making a claim for compensation for a physical disability or any other mental condition. In short, the normal claim for compensation through the VA consists of showing that you have (1) a current diagnosis of a disability, (2) an injury, illness or event that was sustained in service, and (3) some sort of evidence that shows a link between the in-service injury, event, or illness and the current disability you are suffering from. As if the process weren’t complex enough, it only gets a bit more complicated when it comes to PTSD.
A veteran making a claim for PTSD must show that they have what is called a “stressor”. In other words, the Veteran must be able to show that they experienced a traumatic event while in service. For a veteran that engaged in combat, this may be as simple as the veteran providing a statement detailing a traumatic experience(s), coupled with proof that they served in combat (usually verified by official military records). However, for a veteran who did not engage in combat, a simple statement concerning a traumatic event will not be enough. They will need to provide very specific details such as the people involved, dates, location, and a description of the event. From there, the VA regional office handling the claim will reach out to the Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) to attempt to verify if the veteran actually experienced what they’re claiming. While there is no way around this hurdle, a veteran is best served by encouraging them to be as detailed as they can about their traumatic experiences in service, even if it makes them a bit uncomfortable to unearth the memories. Claims for PTSD are often denied because the veteran doesn’t provide enough information for JSRRC to confirm that their traumatic event actually occurred.
Take note of what you see.
Many times, it’s easy to accredit anger issues, moodiness, and lack of patience to the natural process of aging. While some of the aforementioned symptoms may be directly related to the process of aging, many other clear signs that your loved one is suffering from PTSD aren’t. Common symptoms of PTSD may include sleep impairment, violent outbursts, a continuous depressed mood, inability to build and maintain relationships, and constant anxiety. While this isn’t nearly an all-inclusive list of symptoms, these are common signs that it may be time to encourage your loved one to seek the treatment they need. While you may have noticed this behavior in your loved one for decades, it may likely be attributable to a traumatic event or series of events that they experienced in service.
Don’t be shy about submitting a statement to VA to help your loved one get the compensation they are entitled to. When a veteran files a claim for PTSD, they’ll likely be scheduled for a VA examination. While this is an important part of the process, a simple examination may not accurately show the difficulties that your loved one faces every day. They may be guarded, embarrassed, or unwilling to share intimate feelings and struggles with a stranger. As a spouse, child, friend, or fellow service member of a veteran suffering from PTSD, if you’ve noticed that your once happy, energetic loved one is now lethargic, unmotivated, short-tempered, and overly anxious; a short statement submitted to the VA regional office handling their claim may tip the scale in getting them the amount of compensation they deserve.
For PTSD, VA awards the amount of compensation based on the veteran’s symptoms, and how their PTSD affects their everyday life. For example, if you believe their PTSD has prevented them from working a long-term job, maintaining healthy relationships with others, taking basic care of themselves and their affairs, or simply functioning normally in a public setting; include this in your statement. Your loved one is more likely to receive an amount of compensation that actually takes into consideration the disabling effects of PTSD on their individual life, than they would if there was no evidence of these every day struggles. The bottom line is while a doctor may be able to communicate your loved one’s symptoms in medical terms, no one knows better than you what it’s like to live with them and see how PTSD has affected every aspect of their daily life.
For more information on obtaining treatment or compensation for a veteran suffering from PTSD click here.
What to consider after your aging loved one receives funding or compensation?
After your aging loved one receives funding or compensation, you may want to take steps to make sure they are living an optimum life. Quite often family members and friends or your senior loved one notices the home that was once well lived in, has become a burden to them. Where all rooms of the home may have been well used previously, only a few essential rooms are now used on a regular basis. It may be time to consider discussing downsizing or relocation and companies like Caring Transitions can help relieve the stress often involved with relocating a senior, decluttering, or downsizing; especially a senior suffering from PTSD. See the 5 questions to ask below to assess if it’s time for your senior loved one to move.
1. Does their existing home meet their needs?
It is important to consider what is needed in a new or current space. Is it a different layout? More space to entertain or less space because of limited mobility or health complications. Hone in on their needs and compile a list of what needs are not met.
2. How much does it cost for your loved one to upsize, downsize or rightsize?
Assess how much they can afford while still enjoying great quality of life. Research the expenses associated with where your loved one wants to move as well as the cost of the move. Companies like Caring Transitions can help you offset the cost of any move from downsizing to upsizing and anything in-between.
3. Would a new community better suit their lifestyle or life stage?
Are they active? Do they want to travel? Lifestyle is a great determining factor for where anyone plans to live or settle, no matter the stage of life. Help your loved one choose a convenient community that fits their lifestyle.
4. Is this a smart long-term financial decision?
Consider the long-term risks or benefits of moving. Being realistic about your loved one's health and finances is a great step towards planning to upsize, downsize or rightsize. In many cases, budgets and savings have a limit for what is covered. Making solid financial and healthcare plans or creating a new plan could help you decide if a move is the right decision for your family member’s future.
5. Are they overwhelmed with the current responsibilities of maintaining their home?
In a recent Chicago Tribune article, research revealed the average American household spends approximately “70 hours a year on lawn and garden care, according to the American Time Use Survey.” Other research shows most households spend 20 hours each week maintaining their home. These hours and tasks can overwhelm some aging adults or be a small price to pay for comfort to others.