Military service can lead to both mental and physical health conditions that linger for years. Many veterans have personality changes and mental health conditions that arise after service. Other veterans experience traumatic brain injuries that impact their personalities and mood.
When veterans' health negatively affects their personality and interactions with others, they may find that they cannot work. Veterans with certain mental health symptoms may be entitled to disability compensation.
VA Mental Health Conditions
Mental health disorders manifest through a host of symptoms with different degrees of severity. Mood changes, memory problems, and panic attacks are common signs of mental conditions. One less clear symptom that may affect veterans is "flat affect."
Sometimes called "flattened affect," this symptom causes veterans to have reduced ability to express emotions. According to WebMD, flat affect might exhibit:
- Appearance of apathy
- Avoiding eye contact
- Little to no change in facial expressions
- Monotone speaking voice
- No or low emotional expression on the face
- No or low emotional, verbal, and nonverbal reactions
Schizophrenia, depression, and neurocognitive disorders caused by traumatic brain disorders and PTSD can present with flat affect. It may also occur as a side effect of certain medications and due to paralysis of facial muscles.
Because flat affect is typically associated with a significant mental health condition, it is usually just one symptom among many. Depending on the root cause, a veteran might also exhibit other behavior such as memory problems, difficulty following instructions, impaired judgment, and difficulty with work and social relationships.
It's possible that flat affect might be an obstacle to keeping a regular job and interacting with others. In addition, the mental health effects may be long-term, and there may not be a reliable path to improvement, even with treatment.
If veterans experience flat affect that affects their ability to work, they may be entitled to disability benefits from the VA. Under the "General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders," flat affect can entitle veterans to a 50% disability rating.
Qualifying for VA Benefits for Flattened Affect
To qualify for VA disability benefits for a mental health condition, veterans need to establish a link between military service and their current conditions. To demonstrate the service connection, a veteran must satisfy three basic criteria:
First, the veteran must provide evidence of a current disability. Veterans will need to show that they have a condition that significantly impacts their well-being.
Second, the veteran must present evidence that something happened in service.
Finally, veterans need to show a connection between in-service injury or disease and the present disability. Veterans must have evidence establishing that a disabling disease or injury was "incurred coincident with service in the Armed Forces, or if preexisting such service, was aggravated therein."
If the veteran's mental health condition is related to a traumatic brain injury that happened during service, there should be military records showing the nature of the injury. Any medical records detailing treatment related to the TBI after military service will also be relevant to the claim.
If flat affect is a symptom of PTSD caused by events or injuries during active duty, personal records may contain information about the pertinent events. The veteran may need to provide evidence of personality and mood changes after the traumatic event. Medical and psychological treatment records and reports from friends, family, and coworkers can support the claim that PTSD directly causes mental health changes.
Even if a veteran had a condition such as depression or schizophrenia during or before their service, they are eligible for benefits if they can show that service made their symptoms worse.