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OffGridGrunt

Help/Hope for a bad C&P is all lost? Hope I get a good rater!

Question

I filed a claim sometime in early October for an increase of my PTSD, a foot injury, as well as put in for 2 new conditions and one secondary condition. While I am largely very happy with how the claims for my physical disabilities has gone (my examiner told me within the first 5 minutes he was going to connect me for all the new stuff and that I rated an increase for the foot issue - after that I just had to actually do the C&P!

My PTSD exam and resulting DBQ however were not nearly as smooth as my other C&P's had gone. Honestly I was actually kind of shocked when I finally got around to pulling it off myhealthevet and reading it. A big reason I was so surprised is that as far as "evidence" goes I've been piling it up over the last year. To get to how this all went down I have to run it back a little bit and explain my situation.

I ran into a rough time around February of last year......  So I had my big sob story all typed up and then chickened out. Sufficed to say that I lost everything. Not only did I lose my wife and kids, I lost the dream property we had worked so hard to get to. I just walked away from it, I couldn't bring myself to walk back into the cabin. I literally just left everything I'd worked for the last 6 years of my life at 9,000 feet on the side of a mountain and just walked away.

Sufficed to say I crashed and burned really hard. For about 3 weeks I spent every waking moment doing everything I could to make the pain go away, up to and including multiple attempts at OD'ing. I finally was able to get my wits together, did some searching online and ended up in a VA domiciliary program in Texas. While I've never identified myself as a drug addict, I definitely needed some help getting the wheels back on so the first thing I did was enroll myself in a 45 day substance abuse program. After that I was able to put in 3 1/2 months of inpatient trauma treatment, followed by 2 months of inpatient PTSD treatment. It's been about 9 months but I'm glad I did it, I honestly don't think I would have made it through to the New Year if I hadn't come here.

Anyhow, after 9 months of inpatient therapy which included almost 6 months of trauma/PTSD treatment, daily group meetings, twice weekly counselor/psychologist one on ones, and intensive medication programs to help me through everything, I kinda thought I had a decent chance of getting an increase from 30%. I've tried for increases in the past but I haven't been the most consistent person over the years. I have a hard time following through on treatment and in addition to that due to having a non-combat trauma I haven't had a very easy time getting the VA to accept my diagnosis, at least on the disability side. The treatment side has no issue with it. Anyhow, like I said I had hope because in the past I had been told that I wasn't getting increases in my rating because I wasn't following through on treatment and because of that it made it difficult for me to build much of a case. Everything was simply my word as to how things were, or how I was getting by, but I didn't have anyone respectable to back me up about the things that I was going through and the troubles I have.

So this leads me to my most recent C&P/DBQ. I've cut out a decent amount of personal information and trauma narrative stuff, but the meat and potatoes should be in there for anyone that's familiar with these things. I've been service connected since 2004 and my trauma is most definitely legitimate. I really hope there's a possible sunny side to all of this. I've done a massive amount of googling over the last few days and I've seen posts where people say that just because the examiner says one thing doesn't mean that's the direction the rater is going to go with things.

I'm really discouraged right now. I've had a very contentious relationship with the VA for a long time. I have a very hard time trusting the VA anymore. I've had some very bad caregivers who were telling me one thing to my face while shredding me in their notes after I'd left (We have access to those you know....) One LCSW in particular went out of here way to push a personality disorder diagnosis on me, essentially getting the diagnosis put in my chart by filling up my psychiatrist with a lot of crap; all the while telling me how much she was trying to help me.

Now here I am again. I feel like I'm really getting the short end of the stick by the VA and in particular this examiner, after I did have a pretty awesome doctor for my physical C&Ps and lord knows I'm not the first one to get the un-greased by the wonderful VA. That being said I'm just frustrated because I've really put in so much effort into my recovery and treatment. I'm working the DBT, mindfulness and challenging beliefs far more than I'm comfortable with, but I'm doing it. Anyhow I went from erasing my sob story to writing a whole new one. Thanks for taking the time to read through this and pass on any info/experience/ideas you might have.

Thanks in advance,

OGG

The following is an excerpt from another thread I started about a DBQ for my back that ended up digressing a little. I figured there's no reason to type it all out again new so I just copy and pasted the "important" parts.

Review Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Disability Benefits Questionnaire
SECTION I:

---------------------
1. Diagnostic Summary
 --------------------

Does the Veteran now have or has he/she ever been diagnosed with PTSD?   

[X] Yes[ ] No
  2. Current Diagnoses:
    -------------------
Mental Disorder Diagnosis #1: PTSD

Mental Disorder Diagnosis #2: Cannabis Use Disorder, In Early Remission, In a Controlled Environment

Mental Disorder Diagnosis #3: Alcohol Use Disorder, In Early Remission, In a Controlled Environment

Mental Disorder Diagnosis #4: Inhalant Use Disorder, In Early Remission, In a Controlled Environment

Alright I'm definitely not proud of the huffing. All I can say is that my life had fallen to pieces. My wife took my kids and left me while I was getting the car fixed overnight. She filed false abuse charges against me to keep me from the kids. I'm no saint but I never abused my wife or my kids. Up until this moment I hadn't had a drink in 5 years... I just smoked pot - which I was prescribed. Also I think this would be a good time to put what my actual working diagnosis list for a little bit of contrast. This list was pulled straight off my myhealthevet file and reflects 9 months of inpatient treatment. I can't help but feel like this lady was snowballing me. Yes there's some overlap. What's the difference between PTSD and Chronic PTSD? I don't know. Why do I have 2 types of insomnia DX'd? I don't know that either.

#1)Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (SCT 313182004)

#2)Posttraumatic stress disorder (SCT47505003)

#3) Anxiety (SCT 48694002) - symptom of PTSD

#3) Depressive disorder (SCT 35489007) - symptom of PTSD

#4) Insomnia (SCT 193462001) - symptom of PTSD

#5) Psychophysiologic insomnia (SCT 425832009) - symptom of PTSD

#6) Cannabis dependence (SCT 85005007)

#7) Alcohol dependence (SCT 66590003)

 3. Differentiation of symptoms
    -----------------------------
   a. Does the Veteran have more than one mental disorder diagnosed?

      [X] Yes[ ] NO

   b. Is it possible to differentiate what symptom(s) is/are attributable to each diagnosis?
       [X] Yes[ ] No[ ] Not applicable (N/A)

I have a problem with this part. Just how is she going differentiate between my various diagnosis which all are attributed to the PTSD? (besides the substance abuse issues)

    4. Occupational and social impairment
    ------------------------------------
   a. Which of the following best summarizes the Veteran's level of occupational and social impairment with regards to all mental diagnoses? (Check only one)

     [X] Occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks, although generally functioning satisfactorily, with normal routine behavior, self-care and conversation.

I have a problem with this as well. I haven't been able to work in 6 years. I've tried but it always ends up being a failed attempt. I usually end up getting myself too worked up about social situations, get too depressed to get out of bed, get fired for being late because I have serious sleep problems which sometimes lead me to not being able to wake up for my alarm, etc etc. In addition I barely go out. Hell I went out of my way to move 10 miles from the closest power poll 9,000' above sea level just to find myself some peace. I can't handle large groups, I psych myself out when I'm out at night, I see danger and trouble everywhere. Anyhow back to getting smeared.


    b. For the indicated level of occupational and social impairment, is it possible to differentiate what portion of the occupational and social impairment indicated above is caused by each mental disorder?
       [X] Yes[ ] No[ ] No other mental disorder has been diagnosed
If yes, list which portion of the indicated level of occupational and social impairment is attributable to each diagnosis: Symptoms of PTSD and substance use contribute to social and occupational impairment. However, symptoms of PTSD have not increased in severity since the veteran's last C&P exam in 2013.

A quick side note A: I've been in a treatment facility for almost a year now, I'm pretty sure my "substance abuse" isn't contributing to my issues. I smoked cannabis medicinally and I don't even drink. Why do I smoke pot because it helps with my PTSD as well as a laundry list of other issues. That being said I've been "clean" for a year now. So...  now that she's basically said I barely have PTSD, and my troubles are simply because I'm a drug addict, let's get on to the next section.

 3. PTSD Diagnostic Criteria
    --------------------------
   Please check criteria used for establishing the current PTSD diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD, are from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). The stressful event can be due to combat, personal trauma, other life threatening situations (non-combat related stressors.) Do NOT mark symptoms below that are clearly not attributable to the Criteria A stressor/PTSD. Instead, overlapping symptoms clearly attributable to other things should be noted under #6 - "Other symptoms".
   
       Criterion A: Exposure to actual or threatened a) death, b) serious injury, c) sexual violation, in one or more of the following ways:
                   [X] Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s)
       Criterion B: Presence of (one or more) of the following intrusion symptoms associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred:
                   [X] Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s).d
                   [X] Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to traumatic event(s).
                   [X] Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).

       Criterion C: Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic events(s) occurred, as evidenced by one or both of the following:
                    [X] Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
                    [X] Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects,  situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).

       Criterion D: Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:
                   [X] Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., "I am bad,: "No one can be trusted,: "The world is completely dangerous,: "My whole nervous system is permanently  ruined").
                   [X] Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead to the individual to blame himself/herself or others.
                   [X] Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).
                   [X] Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
                   [X] Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
                   [X] Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness, satisfac
tion, or loving feelings.)
       Criterion E: Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:
                   [X] Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.
                   [X] Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
                   [X] Hypervigilance.
                   [X] Exaggerated startle response.
                   [X] Problems with concentration.
                   [X] Sleep disturbance (e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep).

       Criterion F:
                   [X] The duration of the symptoms described above in Criteria B, C, and D are more than 1 month.
       Criterion G:
                   [X] The PTSD symptoms described above cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
       Criterion H:
                   [X] The disturbance is NOT attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, alcohol) or another medical condition.

That last one is my favorite! Not only does she say that my disturbances are NOT attributable to substances be it medication or drugs nor are they attributed to another medical condition. She also manages to manages to assess me with 20 out of 24 possible sub-criteria or disturbances in the diagnosis of PTSD. I'm sure I'm reading into this wrong and I can't look at things like this but that certainly feels like more than 30% disabling. I dunno.

4. Symptoms
    ----------
   For VA rating purposes, check all symptoms that actively apply to the Veteran's diagnoses:

       [X] Depressed mood
       [X] Anxiety
       [X] Suspiciousness
       [X] Chronic sleep impairment
       [X] Mild memory loss, such as forgetting names, directions or recent events

 6. Other symptoms
    ----------------

In this section she just goes about telling whatever version of my life story she could piece together from old treatment records. Spends a lot of time on the fact that I smoke pot, that I didn't have a relationship with my father and various other fun facts that do a lot to distract you from the lack of a cohesive narrative or making any of what she wrote mean anything as far as the DBQ goes. She doesn't list a single "other symptom" like the line below talks about. She just kinda makes me out to be a flaky loser.


   Does the Veteran have any other symptoms attributable to PTSD (and other mental disorders) that are not listed above?

                   [ ] Yes [X] No.......

 7. Competency
    ------------

Is the Veteran capable of managing his or her financial affairs?
    [ ] Yes[X] No

At this point she pulls out some more fun facts from my medical record. She says that "I frequently go on spending sprees", and brings up how when I was 25 and got my first backpay check and I blew it on fun stuff like a car, and a computer and whatnot (I was single going to university at the time). What this cluck of a woman doesn't see in her precious computer is that other than my time here at the VA facility I'd been able to support my wife and two kids on my 50% SC. Trust me there's no spending sprees going on there.

    8. Remarks, (including any testing results) if any:
    --------------------------------------------------
      Psychological Testing:

      A test of response bias specifically related to PTSD symptoms was administered to the veteran during this examination to assess the credibility of his self report. The name of this measure is withheld in this report in order to protect the integrity of the test. This test was specifically standardized on a sample of veterans applying for financial        remuneration for a claim of disability resulting from PTSD.  The veteran's score on this test was below the established cutoff, indicating that his performance was consistent with individuals responding in a valid manner. As such, he did not appear to be intentionally exaggerating signs and symptoms of PTSD or attempting to appear worse off that he actually is.

Ahh what a finish eh? I think she should spend less time worrying about my credibility and a little more about hers. Well, last but not least  let's hear her final word on the subject:

Signed: 10/30/2015 13:35

11/03/2015 ADDENDUM         STATUS: COMPLETED

PTSD is less likely than not a result of military duties.

/es/ Her Name Goes Here, PSYCHOLOGIST
Signed: 11/03/2015 15:22

So yeah that's essentially where I'm at. I'm just hoping that whoever rates my PTSD takes what she says with a grain of salt and also takes time to look at the 1200 pages of treatment records I've added to my medical record in the last year as well as the weakly psychologist appointments, 20 page typed trauma narrative, the countless notes that were put in on my behalf. I hope they also see the weekly PCL-5s averaging between 65 and 72, the by weekly CAPs averaging around 66, the PHQ9 score of 23, the gad-7 score of 20 - All of which were administered by a Doctor or LCSW. Yah I've got this one too; 

World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0

Cognition: 75

Mobility: 12

Self-care: 70

Getting along: 83

Life activities (household): 100

Life activities (work/school): 85

Participation: 79

Summary: 70

*Range is 0 to 100 where 0 indicates no disability and 100 means full disability

I realize I'm probably putting too much hope into all of this. I know that the disability tests and rating exams probably don't amount to anything as far as determining anything with the VA. If the particular examiner is up on their stuff they might know the significance of the WHODAS 2.0 or put stock in the CAPs screening but really they don't have to look at them at all.  Hopefully at the very least I can use all I've put together to apply for SSDI.

If you've gotten this far thank you so much for reading my rant and hopefully pulling out the important bits from what I did post of my DBQ. Hopefully I haven't over edited it but I just didn't think what she wrote was particularly applicable to the questions that the DBQ was asking and I generally feel she was just trying to prove out whatever she had come to believe based on small glimpses of my medical record. I really wish I had been afforded the opportunity to address some of the conclusions she was making about me and the picture she was painting.

 

 

 

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You said this was for an increase in your PTSD rating.

But the examiner stated this:

"Signed: 10/30/2015 13:35

11/03/2015 ADDENDUM         STATUS: COMPLETED

PTSD is less likely than not a result of military duties."

I think you should be prepared for a potential reduction in your PTSD comp.

Maybe I am reading this wrong.But you said some stuff was left out here.

Others will opine here too.

This was an Addendum. Do you have a copy of the exam this addendum was for?

Did she have all of these treatment records?

A quick side note A: I've been in a treatment facility for almost a year now, I'm pretty sure my "substance abuse" isn't contributing to my issues. I smoked cannabis medicinally and I don't even drink. Why do I smoke pot because it helps with my PTSD as well as a laundry list of other issues. That being said I've been "clean" for a year now. So...  now that she's basically said I barely have PTSD, and my troubles are simply because I'm a drug addict, let's get on to the next section.

 

 

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Berta thanks so much for chiming in on my current conundrum. I'm not entirely sure what the addendum was about. There was no additional exam, the C&P was actually on the 27th of October. Why I wasn't signed until the 30th, and then again 4 days later with that rather crushing addendum I really couldn't say.

I understand your concerns. Her statement at the end is rather damning. As far as whether or not she had all the treatment records I can't say. On the face of it I feel like she must. Anything within the last year as far as treatment records go is here in Texas and I can't imagine she'd miss it as it's her "home" system. That being said all the records that she brought up in her DBQ were all from when I was living in Virginia which is at least two years ago or more.

-----------

So actually I went back through her DBQ and found one item cited from my time here at the domiciliary. It was a single note by my case manager that simply broke down when I got to the domiciliary, what I was diagnosed with, when I graduated from the substance abuse program, to the trauma program and then the PTSD program. Other than that she doesn't reference anything else from the last year.

I'm not entirely sure what to do at this point. I have a few options but none of them are particularly ideal. I can either cross my fingers and see how the rater sees things and hope that the rater spends a little more time digging down in my treatment, the diagnosis and opinions of all my mental health team here and any of the other treasure trove of supporting documentation you'd likely to find if you simply spent a little bit of time.

My other options seems to be to bite the bullet and reopen the claim with more evidence. I'll likely prepare an evidence packet myself and send it in for consideration. The downside of this is that I'm literally leaving for Michigan today so it may make things sticky for me if they decide they'd like to do another C&P or something like that.

The last option is very much similar to the last however it will take more time. The issue I've had ever since I started attempting to work on an increase for my PTSD is that my "trauma" has essentially just been my word. That being said there is actual documentation that can back up my story but I need to obtain my military medical record which I understand can be a waiting game all of it's own.

I know the proof is there and I know I can find it. If I get a reduction I will be appealing it promptly and come well armed with documentation they can't deny.

As far as the examiner stating that she didn't believe I was capable of managing my funds I'm not particularly concerned about that. The incidents that she sited were from about 7 years ago. While I may have difficulty expressing myself in the heat of the moment given a pen and some paper I'm pretty confident in my ability to argue her opinion. Not only was it a significant time ago, a significant amount of things have changed for me over the last year. I'm an entirely different person than the one she's describing in the DBQ and I really don't think I'll have a hard time proving that if and when the case may be.

On the up side of things I'm getting SC'd for 2 new issues, SC'd for one secondary issue and an increase for an issue that I'm already sc'd for. I have faith one way or another, and eventually things will work themselves out.

Thanks again for your comments,

OGG

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Well I think I've found something that is likely to be helpful in the event that I have to end up appealing a decision that comes out of this DBQ or it will give me a foundation on which to put together the evidence that seems to be getting overlooked. I found this gem just a few minutes ago:

This can be found in CFM 3.304

(1) If the evidence establishes a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder during service and the claimed stressor is related to that service, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, and provided that the claimed stressor is consistent with the circumstances, conditions, or hardships of the veteran’s service, the veteran’s lay testimony alone may establish the occurrence of the claimed in-service stressor.

I believe this can help me a lot as I was in fact diagnosed while I was in the marine corps. 

Anyone feel free to burst my bubble but I feel that this should essentially nullify the examiner's statement that she doesn't believe my PTSD was the result of my military service. It seems as though the responsibility is on her to prove otherwise. 

Thanks in advance for any input someone might want to share about this 

OGG

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It is always wise to be aware of the regulations that cover your claim area. I burrowed in and studied till I thought I could do the job myself, and they did something completely contrary to the books.  Go figure, you can't second guess this stuff.

The worse part is, waiting.  Until you get that decision, anxiety is a stressor all by itself!

 

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Oh I know the VA is entirely capable of giving me the shaft on the initial decision. They may even have a laugh at my expense and deny my appeal. It is my general experience however that when it comes down to getting a lawyer this is just the kind of regulatory verbiage they like to use to run the establishment through the ringer. 

Basically I'm saying that i may not be the guy to make this work for me but i believe that when it comes time I'll be able to find someone who can. 

Again i may be overdosing on optimism but nevertheless I feel a whole lot better for finding this. 

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