One of the most rewarding parts of my practice is working with United States military veterans. Veterans make incredible sacrifices during their service years, including not only being apart from their families, but also facing the constant threat of serious physical and psychological injury. While physical injuries are often readily apparent and undeniable, the serious psychological effects of military service on veterans are not always as easy to identify.
What cannot go overlooked are recent reports that 2012 saw a record 349 suicides by military personnel, a number which “far [exceeded the number of] American combat deaths in Afghanistan” the same year. The article went on to note that “Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress or substance abuse” appeared to be one of the main groups facing significant risks. (Id.)
Compounding the negative and predictable psychological effects of having experienced combat is what some have described as the stigma in the military of seeking out help for one’s psychological problems. During “the course of a soldier or officer’s training, we inculcate in them a vicious and emotional resistance to weakness”, and “teach them to bear their own load as well as their buddies’.” (Id.) One vet remarked that during service “[m]y mind was my saving grace, and to hear that it was now my biggest burden when I returned from a tour with post-traumatic stress sounded like a joke.” (Id.)
Unfortunately, the increasing number of military suicides is quite alarming, and suggests that returning veterans are increasingly coming to terms with the intense psychological stressors they experienced during their service.
Fortunately, one resource available to mentally stressed, unemployed veterans is Social Security Disability. I have personally helped numerous veterans through the process of obtaining their benefits for diagnoses including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, Anxiety, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder – not to mention for numerous debilitating physical diagnoses as well.
For veterans interested in applying for Social Security Disability benefits, the most important thing they can do is consistently get treatment for their condition(s). Doing so serves two purposes: (1) Treatment is helpful to the individual who seeks it out because therapy is about confronting and dealing with psychological pain, not hiding from it; and (2) The burden of proof for receiving disability benefits is on the individual claiming disability, meaning that success depends on the kind of clinical medical evidence that is best obtained from consistent treatment.
Remember, it takes a great deal of courage to seek out help, and asking is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Secondly, you’ve served your country and earned your right to benefits if you are no longer able to work because of either a physical or mental disability (or combination of both).