Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of specific triggers, difficulty concentrating, and trouble regulating emotions. When a Veteran is diagnosed with PTSD due to a service-connected stressor, they are entitled to VA disability benefits. However, the process of applying for benefits is a bit more complicated when the stressor that led to a PTSD diagnosis is not combat-related.
PTSD Stressors and Your VA Disability Benefits
To receive VA disability benefits for PTSD, you must be able to provide:
- A PTSD diagnosis from a medical professional
- Your own statement about the stressor that occurred during service that you believe caused your PTSD
- A medical opinion that the stressor was sufficient to cause PTSD from a VA psychologist/psychiatrist or a psychologist/psychiatrist under contract with VA
Combat-related PTSD stressors can result from many different types of combat events, some of which do not involve direct injury to the Veteran. For example, witnessing an IED explosion might be enough to trigger PTSD in some individuals.
Combat stressors typically only require a Veteran’s statement that the stressor occurred and verification from the Veteran’s DD-214 to confirm that they were in combat. If the Veteran was in combat and the stressor stems from time in combat, the VA must presume that their PTSD is a result of combat service.
Non-combat PTSD stressors are a bit more complicated. Types of non-combat PTSD stressors that may be used to apply for disability benefits include serious car accidents, plane accidents, training accidents, natural disasters, and experiencing rape or other sexual trauma during military service. Generally, the VA considers the following to be elements of a PTSD stressor:
- Exposure to death
- Threatened death
- Actual serious injury
- Threatened serious injury
- Actual sexual violence
- Threatened sexual violence
If you are seeking disability benefits based on a non-combat stressor, you will need to provide credible supporting evidence that the event occurred during your service. The VA will require VA Form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for PTSD. This form asks you to provide the approximate date and location of the incident, along with a brief description of what occurred. Any evidence you have to corroborate your account should be submitted with the form. This might include:
- Newspaper articles
- Online public records
- Lay statements (also known as buddy statements)
Lay statements from fellow Veterans who witnessed the non-combat stressor event or knew you during service can provide valuable support to your claim, so care should be taken to gather as many lay statements as possible. Statements should include the writer’s name, contact information, signature, and the date the statement was prepared.
The VA is required by law to help corroborate a non-combat PTSD stressor for a Veteran’s disability application. When you provide your name, Social Security number, description of the stressor, timeframe, and location, the VA can search its records for potentially corroborating evidence such as hazard pay records, after-action reports, monthly summaries, or performance reports.
TDIU for PTSD
You do not need to explain how your PTSD affects your ability to work unless you are requesting Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits. Receiving TDIU allows you to receive benefits at the same rate as someone deemed 100% disabled, but you must be earning less than a poverty-level wage or employed at a position that is considered a protected work environment. Typically, only Veterans with severe PTSD or multiple secondary service-connected disabilities will qualify for TDIU benefits.
Getting Help With Your Disability Application
PTSD is often subject to misunderstanding and unfair stigma. The condition can’t be “cured” in the traditional sense, but it can be managed with access to proper treatment. VA disability benefits can provide the cash compensation and medical care you need to take back control of your life.
If you believe your application for VA disability benefits has been unfairly denied, you should contact a Veterans benefits attorney as soon as possible. The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, has over 20 years of experience helping Veterans suffering from PTSD access their VA disability benefits. Call our office or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review.