Veterans disability compensation is available to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of military service. The VA has special rules that apply to PTSD disability compensation claims.
Identifying Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a medical condition that can develop after experiencing a terrifying event.Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include:
- persistent memories of the event, nightmares, re-living the event over and over
- not talking to anyone about the event, avoiding any situation that may trigger your bad memories
- feeling numb and detached, depressed, disinterested in normal life activities, and
- feeling on high alert all the time, always watching for danger.
If you have any of these symptoms, it is worthwhile to visit a mental health professional to determine if you are suffering from PTSD. In addition to applying for disability benefits, you can also apply for VA health care benefits.
Direct Service Connection for PTSD
In 2010, the VA eased up the requirements for getting disability compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans no longer have to have proof that the event that caused the PTSD occurred. This rule is not just for combat veterans but for all veterans who experienced fear of hostile or terrorist activity.
Here is what is required to establish direct service connection for PTSD:
- a current diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder
- a statement from the veteran about the “stressor” (traumatic event) that occurred during service
- the occurrence of the stressor being consistent with the circumstances of the veterans service
- no strong evidence that the stressor didn’t occur, and
- a medical opinion that the stressor was sufficient to cause PTSD, from:
- a VA psychologist or psychiatrist, or
- a pyschologist or pyschiatrist under contract with the VA.
When Rules Apply to Applications Submitted Before July 2010
In addition to new claims submitted, this new rule also applies to claims:
- submitted before July 13, 2010 that haven't been decided yet (that is, VA regional office hasn't issued decision)
- appealed to the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) on or after July 13, 2010, or appealed before that date and the Board hasn't issued a decision yet, and
- awaiting a decision by a VA regional office on or after July 13, 2010 after the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) vacated a BVA decision and sent the claim back to the regional office for a new adjudication.
PTSD Due to Military Sexual Trauma
An equal percentage of male and female veterans report experiencing rape or sexual harassment while in military service. Many of these veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of not just the sexual trauma but the retaliation they suffer if they report the event.
Disability compensation is available to these veterans for medical conditions, including PTSD, but they have to be able to show some proof that the sexual trauma occurred. For more information, see our article on getting disability compensation for military sexual trauma.
Veterans With PTSD Prior to Service
Events other than military service can cause post traumatic stress disorder, such as child abuse, a car wreck, or a natural disaster. As a result, some veterans may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder prior to entering service. In these cases, the VA will not grant benefits on the basis of direct service connection. However, it may be possible to obtain benefits by establishing an "aggravated service connection" if a stressor during military service made the disorder worse.
It will not be enough to simply show that the symptoms got worse, as this could be due simply to the natural progression of PTSD. It will probably be necessary to get a medical opinion from a doctor stating that the stressor that occurred in service likely made the condition worse.
Also, unless the PTSD was not noted in the entrance medical exam, the veteran will have to provide medical evidence showing that the PTSD was diagnosed and/or treated prior to entry into military service.
How to Apply for Disability Based on PTSD
You can apply online, by using the Application for Veterans Compensation and/or Pension, by visiting your local VA office, or by phoning 800-827-1000. For more information on applying, see our article on applying for VA disability benefits.
Survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) can check with their VA regional office to see if there is an MST specialist who can assist with the application.
VA Treatment for PTSD
The VA recognizes how widespread post-traumatic stress disorder is among veterans and provides counseling services for veterans suffering from PTSD. You can learn about PTSD counseling programs at the VA website. The VA also has specialized counseling programs for survivors of military sexual trauma.
For more information on getting help with PTSD, see Nolo's section on help for veterans with PTSD.