When you submit an application for disability compensation and one of the disabilities you claim is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you will typically receive a letter from the VA acknowledging receipt of your application and asking you to write a “stressor statement.” A stressor statement is a description of the stressful experiences you had in the military that led to your developing PTSD. You will be supplied with a Statement in Support of Claim form where you can write down your stressor statement.
If you are a veteran who received a Combat Action Ribbon, a Purple Heart, or a Combat Infantryman Badge, the VA may not require that you write a stressor statement and therefore will not ask you to submit one.
Make sure to write your statement at a time when you have supportive people, such as a therapist or friend, available for you to call if you become overwhelmed. It is difficult to sit down and write about terrible events that you don’t even want to think about or remember. You should call a supportive person before you sit down to write and then after you have finished it. This can help you to feel less isolated with your memories.
It is ok to say what parts of your experiences you can’t remember. Most people can’t remember everything about a traumatic event because the body goes into shock and processes information in a different way than during non-stressful times.
It can help to have both military records and records of your own communications to help jog your memory. You can request a copy of personnel records and service medical records from the military, and these records will help you remember dates and other details of what happened. Read Nolo’s article about how to obtain your records.
Ask friends and family members for any letters you sent them while in the service, and check your email account for any messages you sent describing what you experienced. If you keep a diary, it can be helpful to refer to it.
Write very clearly, or type on a computer if you can. Describe the traumatic events in the order that they happened. Tell where the event happened, what unit you were in at the time, and when it happened (as best you can). Provide as much detail as you can and also describe the feelings you had about what happened.
Don’t diminish the stressful experience you had and don’t make it seem even more severe than it was. Just tell exactly what occurred and that will be very effective.
Next, describe what your life was like before you began military service, what your relationship with friends and families was like, how you did in school, whether you played sports or had a job. Then describe what happened after you returned home from the service. Give examples of problems you had with work, school, or relationships. Describe your difficulty adjusting to civilian life. If you were no longer interested in activities you once enjoyed, talk about that.
Give specific examples of your PTSD symptoms. For example “I had a panic attack when I heard a car backfire, I thought it was gunfire” or “I heard someone scream on TV and I ran for cover.” This will be much more effective than providing clinical descriptions of symptoms that you may have learned while undergoing mental health treatment.
If you've used alcohol and drugs to cope with your PTSD symptoms, it’s ok to write about that. This is your chance to explain that you couldn’t handle having PTSD and that your alcohol or drug use began, or worsened, after the stressful events occurred. You can also talk about whether you are now clean and sober and how long you have been in treatment, if applicable.
If you still use alcohol and drugs, talk about why you do so, and how often. Again, this can be evidence of the impact PTSD is having on your life.
Finally, write about how you are now feeling about your present life, whether you are in treatment for PTSD, and if you aren’t, why not. Sign your statement, and if there are several pages, add page numbers and staple the packet together.
Your friends and family members have a special ability to describe how your life has changed as a result of traumatic events you experience while in the service. They can write about the person you were when you entered the service and the changed person you were when you returned home.
Ask friends and family to describe in their statement what your personality was like before service and what is like now. Maybe you were outgoing and popular before, and now you are a recluse who does not like leaving the house. Or perhaps you were quiet and laid-back, and now you’re extremely angry a lot. Maybe you used to feel very close to your spouse and now you are withdrawn from her (or him), or even abusive. Or perhaps you no longer feel that you are available for your children.
All of these people can help by writing a statement giving examples of how your behavior has changed. Your child could say you used to help with homework and now you sit in front of the TV drinking. Your friends could describe how you don’t feel safe leaving the house, and everywhere you go you are always looking over your shoulder, on high alert. Your spouse could describe how you wake up terrified in the middle of the night from nightmares.
Each person will need to describe their relationship to you, how long they have known you, and how much time you normally spend together. They should be as honest as possible and just let the facts about your behavior speak for themselves. Make sure they sign the letter and include their full name and address.
You can also ask for statements from co-workers, employers, clergy, or anyone else who has seen changes in you. Even someone who has only known you since you left the service can still help by describing how you appear to be affected by your post-traumatic stress disorder.
For more information about the requirements for getting disability for PTSD, read about Getting Veterans Disability Benefits for PTSD.