Gun ownership for Veterans who have PTSD is one of the most controversial topics for members of the Veteran community. The Jan Dils team interacts with thousands of Veterans every year, many of whom have told our intake specialists that they are afraid to pursue a PTSD claim, or any other mental health claim, because they are afraid they will no longer be allowed to own guns. Most Vets go through extensive weapons training while in service, and it’s understandable that they feel connected to their weapons. Others like to keep weapons in their home for safety, and some even find shooting weapons at a gun range relaxing. For the most part, a Veteran who has a PTSD diagnosis need not fear losing his or her weapons. As someone who has worked in this field for 7 years and talked to hundreds of Veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD, I have never encountered a Veteran who has lost the ability to own weapons due to PTSD.
If most Veterans with PTSD can still own guns, why do so many believe they can’t? Misinformation comes from many sources. Again, this is one of the most controversial topics in our country now, and there are a lot of political movements that may benefit from individuals believing they can’t own any weapons if they have a PTSD diagnosis. The negative stigma associated with mental health can be used as a way to induce fear into individuals.
However, political agendas are not the only reason why Veterans may be misinformed about this subject. There’s simply not a lot of information available on the subject. If you do a simple Google search asking if Veterans can own guns if they’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, the first result is one of the Jan Dils team’s blogs written three years ago on this same subject. Not only is there a lack of information as a whole—much of the information out there is wrong.
A Veteran who has a PTSD diagnosis can own a gun…but why? Our society must move away from the stigma associated with this condition. Too often, Veterans with PTSD are portrayed in the media as barely functioning—a characterization that is far from the truth. Most Veterans who have PTSD can function in society just like anyone else.
Individuals unfamiliar with mental health may think that conditions like PTSD are black and white issues, believing that a person either has a condition or they don’t. They aren’t aware that there are different levels of PTSD. For instance, most aren’t aware that a Veteran can be granted 0% for PTSD. This means that he or she has the condition, but it’s not severe enough to be compensated. PTSD can actually be rated at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%. As the severity of the condition increases, so does the percentage of compensation.
Veterans who are rated at 70% or lower traditionally lead a regular life. There are plenty of Veterans who are service connected at 70% for PTSD who work full time, have a spouse and kids, and still own guns. That’s not to say that a 70% rating isn’t tough for a Veteran. They often have to work harder to maintain relationships.
If a Veteran is rated at 100% for PTSD, he or she is likely in need of constant medical care. Here is how the 38 CFR outlines the criteria for a 100% PTSD rating:
The Veteran has total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as gross impairment in thought process or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.
(You’ll likely agree that an individual meeting the above criteria probably shouldn’t be allowed to own a weapon.)
Most Veterans won’t meet the Criteria for the 100% rating for PTSD. But, many Veterans who are rated at 100% do have PTSD. That statement may seem particularly confusing if this is your first time reading about VA Disability. The VA can rate a Veteran for multiple conditions; in other words, a Veteran may be rated at 30% for PTSD and also rated on several other conditions that equal 100%. The Veteran is rated at 100% overall, but only 30% for PTSD.
In most states, an individual may lose their ability to own a gun, or another weapon, if they are found to be mentally incompetent. PTSD and mental incompetence are not the same things. A person can be mentally incompetent without having PTSD or depression. According to lawdictionary.org, in the United States, competency involves the mental capacity of an individual to participate in a legal proceeding or his ability to exercise his liberty and pursue his interests. Competence also pertains to the capability of an individual’s state of mind to make decisions that involve his interests.
Here are some other notes about competence that are important to remember:
The Brady Act of 1993, Public Law (PL) 103-159, prohibits the sale of firearms to certain individuals, including beneficiaries the VA determines are incompetent. In compliance with this act, VA reports the names of incompetent beneficiaries to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which then adds the names to a database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Gun dealers must check NICS for the name of a potential buyer before selling him/her a firearm.
The VA’s definition of mental incompetency can be found at 38 CFR 3.353 and states “A mentally incompetent person is one who because of injury or disease lacks the mental capacity to contract or to manage his or her own affairs, including disbursement of funds without limitation.”
It’s important for all Veterans to check their local gun laws regarding who can and can’t own a gun. There are no universal gun laws. So, the criteria to own a gun in West Virginia may be different than that of North Carolina. Just be careful of where you obtain your information.
Seeking treatment for PTSD can make a big difference in the lives of Veterans. While medication helps many, it may not work for you. Perhaps you will benefit better from an alternative treatment. Many Veterans find relief by practicing yoga, riding motorcycles, playing the guitar, or even going to the shooting range.
If you believe you may have PTSD, and you’d like to know more about service connecting to it, call us today for a free consultation.