How to Write a Stressor Statement for a PTSD Claim for Veterans Disability Compensation

Documenting your PTSD properly is key to winning a claim for veterans disability compensation.

By , Attorney Northeastern University School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney Seattle University School of Law
Updated 3/13/2024

Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can qualify for disability compensation. The VA assigns you a disability rating depending on how severe your symptoms are, which is then used to calculate the size of your monthly benefit. For example, a veteran with a 70% PTSD rating is entitled to at least $1,716.28 in compensation every month in 2024.

After you submit your application for disability compensation due to PTSD, you'll typically receive a letter from the VA asking you to write a "stressor statement." What you say in your stressor statement can affect how your PTSD is rated—which, in turn, can affect the amount of compensation you'll receive.

What's a PTSD Stressor Statement?

A stressor statement is a description of the experiences you had in the military that caused you to develop PTSD. Officially known as VA Form 21-0781, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for PTSD, the form asks you for details about the location and description of the incident, as well as your unit assignment.

If you received a Combat Action Ribbon, a Purple Heart, or a Combat Infantryman Badge, the VA may not require you to write a stressor statement and won't ask you to submit one.

What Should I Say to Get Disability for PTSD?

There aren't any "magic words" you can use to automatically get, say, 70% disability compensation for PTSD. You should instead focus on making sure that your stressor statement describes the traumatic events that led to you developing PTSD, as well as how your life has changed since your diagnosis.

Prepare to Write Your Stressor Statement

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's difficult to sit down and write about terrible events that you don't even want to think about or remember. You should call somebody you trust before you sit down to write your PTSD statement and then after you have finished it. This can help you to feel less isolated with your memories.

It's 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 it does during non-stressful times.

Have Your Records Available For Reference

You may wish to have your military records and personal communications at hand to help jog your memory. If you don't have your records with you, you can request a copy of your service records from the VA. The records can help you remember dates and other details of what happened.

Ask friends and family members for any letters you sent them while on active duty, and check your email account for any messages you sent describing what you experienced. If you keep a diary, it can be useful to refer to your journal entries.

Describe the Experiences That Resulted in PTSD

Take time to sit down and complete the statement at your own pace. As best you can, describe the traumatic events in the order that they happened. Say where, when, and what unit you were in when the event happened. Provide as much detail as you're able to, and 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 say exactly what occurred and that will be very effective.

Discuss How Your Life Has Changed

Next, describe what your life was like before you began military service. You can talk about what your relationship with friends and families was like, how you did in school, and whether you played sports or had a job. Then write about what happened after you returned home, and describe any difficulties you've had adjusting to civilian life. Discuss problems you have with work, school, or relationships. For instance, if you're no longer interested in activities you once enjoyed, that's important to mention.

Provide specific examples of your PTSD symptoms, such as "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.

Finally, write about how you're feeling about your present life and whether any treatment you're receiving for PTSD (such as counseling or medication) is effective. If you're not currently getting treatment, explain why not. Sign your statement, add page numbers, and staple the packet together.

PTSD Stressor Statement Example

You can click on the thumbnail below to find an example of a completed VA Form 21-0781 and stressor statement.

Example of VA Form 21-0781

Getting Family Members or Friends to Write Letters

Your friends and family members have special insight into the ways that your life has changed as a result of the traumatic events you experienced while enlisted. They can write about the person you were when you entered the service and the changed person you were when you returned home.

Who Should You Ask to Write a Letter?

Anybody with first-person knowledge of how your behavior has changed is a good candidate for writing a support letter. 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.

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.

What Should Your Friends and Family Say in the Letter?

Ask your friends and family to describe what your personality was like before you entered service and what you're like now. Maybe you used to be very outgoing and popular, but now you avoid public spaces and don't like to leave your house. Or perhaps you were easygoing and laid-back, and now you're irritable and quick to anger. Any changes they've noticed about your relationship with your spouse or children should be included as well.

Each person who writes a letter 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.

Additional Information for Veterans With PTSD

The VA provides resources for veterans who are struggling with PTSD symptoms. You can find out more information and get access to treatment at the following websites:

For more information about the requirements for getting disability for PTSD, read our article on getting veterans disability benefits for PTSD. And when you're ready to apply, consult our guide on applying for VA disability compensation.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to an attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you