The Evolution of Combat: How a New Generation of Pilots Service Connect for PTSD

One of the great things about working for Jan Dils is that we all love to share stories. When you get a group of people together from our VA Department for a meeting, many members of our staff will share stories about unique cases they came across while doing reviews, or interacting with clients. Recently during a meeting, Kris, one of our Claim File Review Specialists, shared something that really surprised me. With June being PTSD awareness month I thought this would be a great time to share.

Though I have been working with VA Disability for over five years, and I know that PTSD stressors can come from many situations, I’m still guilty of thinking of Boots on Ground Combat when I hear a PTSD stressor. It’s because I encounter so many Veterans who have served in combat in person. It never crossed my mind that a Veteran, who never stepped foot in country, could have a combat stressor. However, that is exactly what was brought up during our most recent meeting.

Technology is changing war constantly. Within the past decade we’ve seen the emergence of drones alter the way our troops fight from the sky. Drones can be armed with bombs, and they can be used to combat enemies from half a world away.

Due to the fact that drones don’t have an onboard pilot, we often forget that an individual is actually piloting that aircraft. These aircraft are operated from remote locations, often stateside, and the operator is aware of what he or she is doing. They have a live video feed that helps them navigate the drone. So, the following question was asked at the meeting: Can a drone pilot, who never stepped foot on ground overseas, service connect for PTSD by way of a combat stressor? The answer is yes, and Kris explained how.

It turns out that Kris actually reviewed a case for an Air Force Veteran who was pursuing a claim for PTSD as a drone pilot. Actually, we didn’t just pursue this case, we were able to get the Air Force Vet service connected with a combat stressor though he never left the United States. If I’m honest, I was a little confused about how this would work.

As I’ve written before, Veterans in the past had to prove stressors, even in combat situations. Just over 6 years ago, this changed. Veterans who served in combat no longer have to prove their stressor. Now, they may have to prove that they were in combat, but combat alone is a stressor that is acceptable for PTSD. The VA is essentially agreeing that serving in combat can cause PTSD. Now, that may make sense to you and me, but the VA has a history of being difficult. And the fact that they did agree to this back in the day is somewhat surprising. But the good news is that they did.

One thig we have to consider now is; what is considered combat? This brings us back to the drone pilot mentioned earlier. There is a lot of detail in the CFR about what is considered combat, but that really will only resonate with VA attorneys, and that is not who this blog is written for. But, you’re still asking how a Veteran who was not in a combat zone, can service connect under the combat stressor.

In the CFR, traditional combat is considered Engaging in Combat with the Enemy, and non-traditional combat is considered Fear of Hostile Military or Terrorist Activity. The fear of combat can be IED blasts, small arms fire, suspected sniper fire, and so on. But this also applies to the drone pilot. While the drone pilot did not experience gunfire, blasts, or a sniper, they were witnessing explosions, and they were aware that their actions led to the death of individuals. This is why the Veteran was having trouble after discharge. That is how he got service connected.

Yes, it turns out that a Veteran who never left the country can service connect for PTSD due to a combat stressor. I think that as time goes on, we will see a lot more drone pilots file claims for PTSD.

If you would like to know more about PTSD stressors, or if you’d like to talk to us about your claim, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk right now, fill this form out, and a member of our staff will call you at a better time.


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