How 70% PTSD Can Get You To 100%

VA has several different ratings for service connected PTSD that are correlated with the frequency and severity of associated symptoms.  Many veterans receive a 70% PTSD rating because their PTSD causes substantial problems for them in occupational or social settings, or both.

A 70% PTSD rating is certainly on the higher end of the scale for PTSD ratings. However, we find that many veterans we talk to who have a 70% rating for PTSD are not receiving the maximum amount of compensation they are potentially owed on account of their service-connected posttraumatic stress disorder. Sometimes that is because they should in fact be rated at 100% on the schedule of ratings for PTSD. More often, however, we encounter veterans who are rated at 70% but are not working. In those situations where a veteran is unemployed due to his or her service-connected disability, it is sometimes still possible to draw the same benefit as those veterans rated at 100% total disability. Unfortunately, many veterans at the 70% rating level for PTSD do not realize that they are likely overlooking additional benefits if their PTSD prevents them from being able to get or keep a job.

If you are at the 70% level or  are applying to get that, you owe it to yourself and your family see if you may be eligible for compensation at the 100% level through TDIU, also known as total disability based on individual unemployability, or simply individual unemployability (IU).

Unemployment questions What is VA total disability individual unemployability (TDIU)?

You may have a single service connected disability with a single disability rating.  Or, you may have more than one service connected disability and a combined rating.

In most cases, VA pays you benefits based on that single disability rating or combined disability rating.  But, TDIU allows you to draw benefits for a 100 percent rating even when VA math does not result in a 100 percent combined rating.

The idea behind total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) is that the limitations from your service connected condition or conditions prevent you from getting or maintaining a job.  If so, then you are essentially 100 percent occupationally disabled.  As a result, VA pays you at a 100 percent rating.

One of the most critical factors in TDIU claims is how your service connected disabilities affect your ability to work.  Some service connected disabilities affect your ability to physically perform the job.  PTSD often affects someone’s ability to mentally perform the job or to interact with others.

What does it take to get a 70% PTSD rating?

VA uses diagnostic codes to assign ratings to all different conditions.  It will help to discuss the diagnostic code used to rate PTSD so that you can understand what a 70 percent PTSD rating means.

For a 70% percent PTSD rating, the PTSD diagnostic code states:

  • Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.

The focus of the diagnostic code is on occupational and social impairment.  This means VA focuses on how your PTSD affects your ability to work and your ability to maintain relationships, both professional and personal.

There are many different rating levels for PTSD ranging from 0% for someone without even mild symptoms up to 100% for someone who is totally disabled.  If you would like some more specific information on that, I would suggest reading this article which discusses all of those ratings and how VA rates PTSD.

Why could a 70% PTSD rating qualify me for TDIU?

A 70% PTSD rating is significant when thinking about TDIU for two reasons. First, the types of symptoms affecting a veteran with a 70% PTSD rating are ones that would almost certainly impact employment to some extent, no matter the type of work. Going through each of the specifics in the 70% range should help to clarify why a 70% PTSD rating will often be unemployable and thereby qualify a veteran for a 100% TDIU rating.

If you are rated at the 70% level, many of the factors that go into that rating focus on your performance within the workplace and your inability to perform satisfactorily at your place of employment. These include:

“With deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgement, thinking, or mood”

This is the general statement that VA makes at the beginning of the 70% PTSD level and gauges the breadth and scope of the PTSD’s impact on the veteran’s life. The broader the impact across various aspects of life, the more likely he or she is to qualify for a 7% PTSD rating.  Again, VA focuses on impairment in work and relationships.

The ratings criteria also mention judgment, thinking and mood.  All three of these factors affect a veteran’s ability to get or maintain a job.  You need good judgment and ability to to think clearly to work in virtually every type of job.  Even if your PTSD does not affect your judgment or your thinking, or the job does not require too much independent judgment or thought on the part of the worker (i.e., a manual labor job where the work tasks are clearly specified without opportunity for deviation on the part of the worker), PTSD’s effect on one’s mood often makes it difficult to work with others.

VA then lists out a number of different symptoms associated with PTSD that could qualify you at the 70% level.  I will discuss a few of these symptoms below:

“Obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities”

You may be familiar with the term obsessive compulsive disorder, also referred to as OCD. While this is a clinical diagnosis unto itself, it is a helpful point of reference. Many veterans suffering from moderately severe or severe PTSD often exhibit certain obsessive activities or rituals that may be similar to OCD-type behavior. These often include checking doors and locks repeatedly, wearing the same clothes, or other ritualistic habits. If these habits are more than just habits but can be considered obsessional rituals that interfere with other simple activities, that can inhibit one’s ability to work or carry on daily life. Certainly if those obsessions and rituals distract from job performance and productivity, that is clinically significant in the evaluation of how severe the PTSD is.

“Near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively”

Many people report panic or depression as a symptom of PTSD.  At the 70% level, VA talks about panic or depression that is near continuous and affects the ability to function.

Many jobs in the workplace require you to function independently and they require you to be effective and appropriate in your interactions with others. If your PTSD prevents you from functioning independently or effectively, it probably also affects your ability to work at these jobs.

Angry man with PTSD at work crumpling paper “Impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence)”

While the ratings criteria use the term “impulse control,” this is commonly referred to as losing one’s temper. However, this is usually more than just saying something harsh or lashing out at someone. Many times it is emotional responses that are well beyond what may be expected or called for. Many times, but not always, it implicates violence or the threat of physical violence. Impulse control affects many veterans who suffer from PTSD, especially those who are on the upper end of the spectrum.  VA considers impulse control as a factor at the 70 percent level.  With this factor, VA focuses on irritability and periods of violence.

Almost all employers expect a certain standard of behavior in the workplace.   Most jobs require you to work with other people and “hold your tongue” at certain times when dealing with supervisors, co-workers, and customers.  When your PTSD causes you to lose control of your emotions, that will often prevent you from working.

“Neglect of personal appearance and hygiene”

Sometimes, PTSD affects a veteran’s personal appearance and hygiene.  Depression is common with PTSD, and that often means the patient is not motivated enough or energetic to tend to basic hygiene and appearance needs. Other times, they simply do not pay attention to their appearance because they are so consumed by their PTSD struggles. Other times, it is hard for those with significant PTSD symptoms to keep track of time, meaning they may go days or weeks without showering or shaving. Most employers expect you to come to the workplace looking professional, clean and presentable.

Many veterans who suffer from PTSD simply do not have the energy or the attention to some of those things that many of us do every day in terms of our personal hygiene and appearance.  But, employers will judge you based on your hygiene and appearance.

Customers judge you as well.  If your PTSD causes you to have difficulties maintaining your appearance and hygiene, it will reflect negatively on your employer and will probably impact your ability to function in the workplace. At the least, it will be a factor when an employer is making decisions on whether to retain or terminate the employee.

“Difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work and worklike settings)”

What job is not stressful at some point? If your PTSD prevents you from adapting or responding to stress from work, you might qualify for a 70% PTSD rating.

But, that inability to respond to stress at work will often prevent you from working entirely.  If so, you could qualify for TDIU because of your inability to maintain employment.

Stressed out African American man with PTSD at work in office “Inability to establish and maintain effective relationships”

In the workplace, you have to maintain effective relationships with employers, supervisors, coworkers, customers, and vendors.  Your PTSD may prevent you from establishing and maintaining those relationships effectively.  If so, this obviously affects your ability to work because most jobs require you to interact with other people.

How do I get to the 100% VA rating with my 70% rating for PTSD?

As you can see, a 70% PTSD rating will often make it difficult if not nearly impossible for you to find employment.  If you find yourself in this situation, you need to strongly consider filing for TDIU to try for a 100% rating.

If you filed for TDIU with a 70% PTSD rating and were denied, you should strongly consider filing an appeal.  TDIU is one of the most complicated parts of veterans disability benefits law.  So, you should consider talking to an attorney about your claim if you are filing or considering a TDIU appeal.

Travis Studdard is an attorney who focuses on representing veterans in VA disability compensation claims.  He regularly writes about issues that are important to veterans and their families.

You can subscribe to his Veterans Disability channel on YouTube.

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