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July 11, 2024

Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder a Disability?

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Yes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is recognized as a disability under SSDI, SSI, and VA disability programs.

PTSD can have significant impacts on the lives of those who experience it, especially for veterans.

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, and it can lead to severe symptoms that disrupt your work, life, and social functioning.

If you’re struggling with PTSD, you might be wondering if you qualify for disability benefits and how to navigate the application process.

This article will explain how to get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and VA disability benefits for PTSD.

Let’s begin!

Table of Contents

Summary of Key Points

  • PTSD as a Disability: PTSD is recognized as a disability under SSDI, SSI, and VA disability programs, significantly impacting the lives of veterans and others who experience it.
  • Qualification for Benefits: Individuals with PTSD can qualify for SSDI and SSI if the condition significantly impairs their ability to work, and for VA disability if they can establish a service connection.
  • Compensation Amounts: Compensation varies with SSDI having a maximum monthly benefit of $3,822, SSI having a maximum of $941 per month for individuals and $1,411 for couples, and VA disability having a maximum of $3,737.85 per month for veterans alone at a 100% rating.
  • Application Process: Applying for disability benefits involves gathering medical evidence, completing applications, and possibly attending evaluations like the VA’s Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam to confirm the severity and service connection of PTSD.

Is PTSD Considered a Disability?

Yes, PTSD is recognized as a disability under both Social Security and VA disability programs.

Individuals with PTSD may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if their condition meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) criteria for disability.

The SSA evaluates PTSD under its bluebook mental disorder’s listings, considering the severity of the symptoms and their impact on the individual’s ability to work.

For veterans, PTSD is recognized as a compensable disability by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans can receive disability benefits if they have a service-connected PTSD diagnosis.

The VA evaluates the severity of PTSD and assigns a disability rating that determines the level of benefits.

Is PTSD a Disability for Social Security?

Yes, PTSD can qualify for both SSDI and SSI benefits if it significantly impairs your ability to work.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes PTSD as a disabling condition under its bluebook listing of impairments, section 12.00 for mental disorders, provided the symptoms are severe enough to meet their criteria.

To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked a certain number of years in jobs covered by Social Security and paid Social Security taxes.

SSDI benefits are based on your earnings history.

On the other hand, SSI is a need-based program for individuals with limited income and resources, and it doesn’t require a work history.

Can You Get VA Disability for PTSD?

Veterans can receive VA disability benefits for PTSD if they can establish a service connection.

This means proving that the PTSD is linked to their military service.

The VA uses specific diagnostic criteria and evidence of a stressor related to service to determine eligibility.

Steps to Establishing Service Connection for PTSD:

For a veteran to get service connected for disability benefits related to PTSD, the VA must have evidence of three critical elements:

  • The veteran has a medical diagnosis of PTSD that conforms to DSM-5 criteriaand
  • The confirmed stressor event occurred during military service, and
  • A “Nexus” or link, established by medical evidence, between the current PTSD symptoms and the in-service stressor.

VA regulation requires that there be credible supporting evidence of a specific in-service stressor, which distinguishes claims for PTSD from other types of claims for service connection.

After filing a VA claim for PTSD, you can expect to get a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam for PTSD to (#1) determine if you have a PTSD diagnosis, (#2) validate the stressor event, (#3) obtain the C&P examiner’s medical opinion for service connection of PTSD, and (#4) assess the severity of your mental health symptoms to include your level of occupational and social impairment.

How Much Compensation Can You Get for PTSD?

The amount of compensation varies depending on the severity of your symptoms and their impact on your daily life and ability to work.

SSDI and SSI Compensation Amounts for PTSD:

  • SSDI: The benefit amount is based on your average lifetime earnings covered by Social Security. Monthly SSDI payments increased by 3.2% in 2024, raising the maximum monthly benefit to $3,822. However, the average monthly payment for SSDI recipients ranges between $1,300 and $1,600, depending on individual work history and average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).
  • SSI: For 2024, the federal maximum SSI benefit is estimated to be $941 per month for an individual and $1,411 for a couple. Additionally, some states provide supplementary payments that can increase the total benefit amount.

VA Disability Compensation Amounts for PTSD:

VA disability for PTSD is rated on a scale from 0% to 100% in increments of 10%.

The rating is based on the severity of your symptoms and their impact on your social and occupational functioning.

Here’s how much compensation you can expect to receive in 2024 for a veteran alone.

  • 0% Disability Rating for PTSD: $0 per month
  • 10% Disability Rating for PTSD: $171.23 per month
  • 20% Disability Rating for PTSD: $338.49 per month
  • 30% Disability Rating for PTSD: $524.31 per month
  • 40% Disability Rating for PTSD: $755.28 per month
  • 50% Disability Rating for PTSD: $1,075.16 per month
  • 60% Disability Rating for PTSD: $1,361.88 per month
  • 70% Disability Rating for PTSD: $1,716.28 per month
  • 80% Disability Rating for PTSD: $1,995.01 per month
  • 90% Disability Rating for PTSD: $2,241.91 per month
  • 100% Disability Rating for PTSD: $3,737.85 per month

Note: VA disability rates from 30% to 100% will be even higher with eligible dependents.

How to Get SSDI or SSI Disability by Meeting the PTSD Listing

To qualify for SSDI or SSI under the PTSD listing, you must demonstrate that your symptoms meet the criteria outlined by the SSA.

The SSA listing for PTSD is found in Section 12.15 of the Blue Book.

You must have medical documentation of all the following:

Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s)
  • Witnessing the event(s) in person
  • Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s)

Persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks

Avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma:

  • Avoiding memories, thoughts, or feelings related to the trauma
  • Avoiding external reminders

Disturbance in mood and behavior:

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Sleep disturbance

Extreme difficulty in social functioning, concentrating, or completing tasks:

The SSA will also evaluate how these symptoms impact your ability to function in a work environment.

How to Get Disability for PTSD by a Medical-Vocational Allowance

If your PTSD doesn’t meet the SSA’s listing criteria, you can still qualify for disability through a medical-vocational allowance.

This process considers your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), which assesses what work activities you can still perform despite your PTSD.

The SSA evaluates:

  • Your Age: Younger individuals are generally expected to adapt to new types of work more easily.
  • Education Level: Higher education levels might open up more job opportunities.
  • Work Experience: Your past work experience and skills can impact your ability to transition to different work.
  • Residual Functional Capacity: How your PTSD symptoms affect your physical and mental abilities to perform work-related activities.

Is It Difficult to Get Disability for PTSD?

Securing disability benefits for PTSD can be challenging due to the need for extensive documentation and proof of the severity of your condition.

The SSA and VA require detailed medical records, statements from healthcare providers, and often, evidence from third parties familiar with your condition.

Common challenges to get disability for PTSD include:

  • Insufficient Medical Documentation: Lack of comprehensive medical records detailing the impact of PTSD. This is the most common reason why PTSD claims get denied.
  • Inconsistent Treatment History: Gaps in mental health treatment can make it harder to prove the severity of symptoms.
  • Subjective Symptoms: PTSD symptoms are often subjective and can be difficult to quantify, making it essential to have thorough and consistent documentation from medical professionals.

How to Apply for Disability Via SSA and VA

Applying for SSDI or SSI

  • Gather Documentation: Collect medical records, therapy notes, and any other evidence of your PTSD diagnosis and its impact on your life. This is the most important part of your application.
  • Submit Medical Evidence: Ensure your healthcare providers have submitted detailed reports to support your claim.
  • Follow Up: Stay in contact with the SSA and respond promptly to any requests for additional information.

Applying for VA Disability

  • Medical Evidence: Submit medical records, including a PTSD diagnosis and details of your symptoms. This is the most important part of filing a VA disability claim for PTSD. Without medical evidence of PTSD, your claim will be denied.
  • Service Connection: Provide evidence that your PTSD is linked to your military service, such as service records and statements from fellow service members. If you’ve been out of the military for more than 12 months, you should get a Nexus Letter from a private healthcare provider and submit it with your claim. It’s helpful to have a private psych eval to confirm your diagnosis, provide a “Nexus” for service connection, and document your severity of symptoms in terms of frequency, severity, and duration.
  • Attend a C&P Exam: Participate in a Compensation & Pension (C&P) exam, where a VA healthcare provider will assess your condition. Here’s a list of common VA mental health exam questions you can expect to be asked.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About PTSD and Disability Benefits

1. Is PTSD considered a disability?

Yes, PTSD is considered a disability if it significantly impairs your ability to perform daily activities and work. Both the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition for disability benefits.

2. Can you get SSDI or SSI benefits for PTSD?

Yes, you can get SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits for PTSD if you meet the SSA’s criteria for disability. This typically involves providing detailed medical evidence of the severity and impact of your PTSD symptoms.

3. Can you get VA disability benefits for PTSD?

Yes, veterans can receive VA disability benefits for PTSD if they can establish a service connection. This requires proving that the PTSD is linked to their military service through evidence of a stressor event and a medical diagnosis.

4. What are the eligibility requirements for SSDI and SSI for PTSD?

For SSDI, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain number of years. For SSI, you must have limited income and resources. Both programs require that your PTSD significantly impairs your ability to work.

5. What are the eligibility requirements for VA disability for PTSD?

You must have a current diagnosis of PTSD, evidence of a stressor related to your military service, and a medical link between the PTSD and the stressor. You’ll also need to undergo a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam to assess the severity of your PTSD.

6. How is PTSD rated for VA disability?

The VA rates PTSD on a scale from 0% to 100% in increments of 10%, based on the severity of symptoms and their impact on social and occupational functioning. Ratings range from mild symptoms (10%) to total impairment (100%).

7. How much compensation can you get for PTSD?

Your PTSD compensation will vary based on the type of benefit and the severity of your condition:

  • SSDI Payments: The maximum monthly benefit for SSDI is $3,822 in 2024, depending on your earnings history and other factors.
  • SSI Payments: The maximum federal benefit for SSI is $941 per month for an individual and $1,411 for a couple in 2024.
  • VA Disability Compensation: The maximum scheduler payment amount for VA disability at the 100% rating level is $3,737.85 per month for a veteran alone​.

8. What are common PTSD symptoms that qualify for disability?

Common symptoms include intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, severe emotional distress, avoidance of trauma reminders, negative changes in thinking and mood, hypervigilance, and difficulty maintaining relationships.

9. How do you apply for SSDI or SSI for PTSD?

You can apply online through the SSA’s website, by phone, or in person at a local SSA office. You need to provide medical evidence, complete the application, and submit any requested documentation.

10. How do you apply for VA disability for PTSD?

You can file a claim online at VA.gov, by mail, or with the assistance of a Veterans Service Organization (VSO). You need to provide evidence of your PTSD, service connection, and likely undergo a C&P exam.

11. What if my disability claim for PTSD is denied?

You can appeal the decision. For SSA claims, you can request reconsideration, a hearing before an administrative law judge, and further appeals if necessary. For VA claims, you can file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

12. How long does the disability application process take?

The timeline varies. SSA claims can take several months to over a year, especially if appeals are necessary. VA claims also vary, with the average VA claim taking around 150 calendar days from submission to decision.

13. Can I work while receiving disability benefits for PTSD?

For SSDI, you can participate in the Trial Work Period (TWP), allowing you to work for up to nine months without losing benefits. For SSI, benefits may be reduced based on income. For VA disability, you can work unless receiving Individual Unemployability benefits, which require proving that you cannot maintain substantially gainful employment.

14. What is the medical-vocational allowance for PTSD?

If you don’t meet the SSA’s listing criteria for PTSD, you can still qualify for disability through a medical-vocational allowance, which considers your age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity to determine if you can adjust to other work despite your condition.

15. How can I strengthen my disability claim for PTSD?

Ensure thorough and consistent medical documentation of your PTSD symptoms, seek regular treatment, and provide detailed statements from healthcare providers. For VA claims, gather evidence of the service connection and consider seeking help from a VSO.

16. What is a C&P exam for VA disability?

A Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam is an evaluation performed by a VA healthcare provider to assess the severity of your PTSD and confirm the service connection. This exam is crucial for determining your VA disability rating.

17. Can PTSD qualify for other types of benefits?

Yes, PTSD may qualify you for other benefits such as vocational rehabilitation, housing assistance, and medical treatment through VA healthcare services. You might also qualify for Special Monthly Compensation benefits depending on the severity of your PTSD and whether you’re housebound.

18. How important is medical evidence for my PTSD disability claim?

Mission critical! Medical records are imperative for proving the severity and impact of your PTSD. They should include detailed notes from healthcare providers, therapy records, and any hospitalizations related to your condition.

19. What are the next steps if I receive an unfavorable decision on my disability claim?

SSA and VA claims have an appeal process to challenge an unfavorable decision. For SSA appeals, you can challenge a medical decision or non medical decision and do it entirely online. For SSA medical decisions, you appeal using the Form SSA-3441, Disability Report – Appeal. For SSA non-medical decisions, you appeal using the SSA-561, Request for Reconsideration. For VA disability appeals, you have multiple options including a Higher Level Review (HLR), Supplemental Claim, or Board Appeal.

About the Author

Brian Reese
Brian Reese

Brian Reese

Brian Reese is one of the top VA disability benefits experts in the world and bestselling author of You Deserve It: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Veteran Benefits You’ve Earned (Second Edition).

Brian’s frustration with the VA claim process led him to create VA Claims Insider, which provides disabled veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned to win their VA disability compensation claim, faster, even if they’ve already filed, been denied, gave up, or don’t know where to start. 

As the founder of VA Claims Insider and CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, he has helped serve more than 10 million military members and veterans since 2013 through free online educational resources.

He is a former active duty Air Force officer with extensive experience leading hundreds of individuals and multi-functional teams in challenging international environments, including a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Brian is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, and he holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, Stillwater, OK, where he was a National Honor Scholar (Top 1% of Graduate School class).

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