Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. While most people will have some distress after exposure to unpleasant situations, PTSD symptoms can last long enough to significantly interfere with work and daily activities. Some common symptoms of PTSD include:
The VA provides disability compensation to veterans who have service-connected PTSD symptoms. The amount of the benefit you'll receive is based on several factors, including your PTSD disability rating.
The VA uses a tool called the Schedule for Rating Disabilities to calculate a veteran's percentage disability rating. Your percentage rating is based on how severely your symptoms affect your daily routine and ability to work. For example, a veteran who is incapacitated due to PTSD may be assigned a 100% disability rating, while a veteran whose symptoms fluctuate between mild and moderate may receive a disability rating of 50%.
PTSD disability percentages are assigned according to the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders. Below is a chart that shows which symptoms need to be documented in order to get a specific disability rating.
|VA Disability Rating||PTSD Symptoms|
|100%||Persistent delusions or hallucinations
Grossly inappropriate behavior
Ongoing danger of harm to self or others
Inability to perform daily activities
Disorientation to time or place
Memory loss of names and occupations for close friends, family, or self
Intermittently illogical speech
Near-continuous panic or depression
Impaired impulse control
Neglect of appearance or hygiene
Difficulty adapting to stressful situations
Inability to maintain relationships
|50%||Inability to express emotions
Difficulty expressing thoughts coherently
Panic attacks more than once per week
Trouble understanding complex commands
Impaired short- and long-term memory
Poor judgment and abstract thinking
Disturbances in motivation and mood
Difficulty maintaining relationships
Feelings of suspiciousness
Panic attacks less than once per week
Chronic sleep impairment
Mild memory loss, such as forgetting directions or recent events
|10%||Transient symptoms that occur only during periods of significant stress, or that are controlled with medication|
|0%||A formal diagnosis of PTSD, but symptoms aren't severe enough to affect social functioning|
The VA uses your percentage rating to help calculate how much you'll receive in disability compensation. (A 0% rating doesn't entitle you to disability compensation benefits, but does give you access to other important benefits, such as health care.) To determine how much your monthly disability benefit will be, review the 2023 veterans disability compensation rates.
Before the VA can assign you disability benefits for PTSD, you'll need to show that there was a link between an event that occurred during service and your current symptoms. Proving that link is called establishing a service connection.
PTSD can be directly service-connected, meaning that it was caused by something that happened while on duty, or it can be an aggravated service connection, meaning that it existed before you enlisted but got worse because of something that happened during your service.
Veterans used to have to provide documentation that the in-service event ("stressor") that caused the PTSD had occurred, which was often a challenging and time-consuming process.
But in 2010, the VA eased the requirements for getting disability compensation due to PTSD. Since then, veterans submitting claims for VA disability benefits don't need to document that the stressor occurred to establish a service connection. Instead, they can show:
The requirements apply to all veterans who have PTSD as a result of "fear of hostile military or terrorist activity," not only veterans who saw combat. Note that the VA won't establish service connection if the department finds "clear and convincing evidence" that the stressor didn't occur, but that standard is a high bar, so most veterans with PTSD won't need to worry.
Events other than military service can cause PTSD, such as serious accidents, domestic abuse, or natural disasters. As a result, some veterans may have already been diagnosed with PTSD prior to entering service, and can't qualify for disability on the basis of direct service connection. But if a stressor that occurred while on duty made your PTSD symptoms worse, you can still qualify for benefits by establishing an aggravated service connection.
Establishing an aggravated service connection is trickier than proving a direct service connection. You'll need to get a medical opinion from a doctor stating that the stressor likely aggravated your PTSD —simply showing that your symptoms got worse won't be enough.
If your PTSD wasn't noted in your entrance medical exam, you'll also need to provide medical evidence showing that you were diagnosed or treated for PTSD prior to enlistment.
The VA provides several methods for you to apply for disability compensation. You can submit your application online, by calling 800-827-1000 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m Eastern, Monday through Friday, or by printing out and mailing VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, to the following address:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
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. For more information, see our article on applying for VA disability benefits.
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.
Updated June 19, 2023