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July 8, 2024

How to Write a Winning VA PTSD Stressor Statement (With Examples!)

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If you want to learn how to implement these strategies to get the VA benefits you deserve, click here to speak with a VA claim expert for free.

To prove service connection for PTSD, you need to provide the VA with a valid stressor event.

This means you need “proof” of an in-service stressor that led to the development of your PTSD.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about VA PTSD stressors with examples, how the VA reviews and validates stressor events, and three examples of PTSD stressor statements.

Let’s begin!

Summary of Key Points

  • Proving Service Connection for PTSD: To establish service connection for PTSD, veterans need to provide the VA with credible evidence of an in-service stressor that led to the development of PTSD.
  • VA PTSD Stressor Examples: These stressors can be combat-related, non-combat-related, or other types, including specific roles and missions, training-related, and deployment-related stressors.
  • Establishing a Valid Stressor: Veterans must substantiate their claims with service records, buddy statements, medical records, and personal statements to validate the PTSD stressor.
  • VA PTSD Review Process: The VA reviews and validates stressor events through detailed forms and corroborating evidence, including the newly combined VA Form 21-0781 for mental health disorders due to in-service traumatic events.

What is a VA PTSD Stressor?

A VA PTSD stressor is a traumatic event or series of events experienced during military service that contributes to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

For a veteran to receive service connection for PTSD, the VA requires credible evidence that these stressor events occurred during military service.

These stressors can vary widely and are crucial in establishing the link between a veteran’s military service and their PTSD diagnosis.

VA PTSD stressors generally fall into two categories: (#1) combat-related stressors, and (#2) non-combat-related stressors.

However, we’ll also list valid stressor events that don’t necessarily fit into those two categories.

Comprehensive List of VA PTSD Stressor Examples

Exposure to Hostile Fire:

  • Being under enemy fire, mortar, or rocket attacks.
  • Participating in firefights or ambushes.

Engagement in Combat:

  • Direct involvement in combat operations.
  • Participating in assaults or raids.

Witnessing Death or Serious Injury:

  • Seeing fellow soldiers, enemy combatants, or civilians killed or severely injured.
  • Being present during mass casualties.

Captivity or Torture:

  • Being captured, imprisoned, or tortured by the enemy.
  • Experiencing interrogation or abuse by captors.

Non-Combat Stressors

Military Sexual Trauma (MST):

  • Experiencing sexual assault or harassment.
  • Being exposed to a hostile work environment due to sexual misconduct.

Severe Accidents:

  • Vehicle crashes, including Humvee, tank, or aircraft accidents.
  • Training accidents involving live-fire or heavy equipment.

Natural Disasters:

  • Experiencing hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, or other natural disasters while on duty.

Explosions:

  • Being near or affected by IEDs, landmines, or accidental detonations.
  • Witnessing or experiencing explosions during combat or training.

Handling Human Remains:

  • Recovering, handling, or identifying bodies.
  • Participating in mortuary affairs or recovery missions.

Other Stressors

Witnessing Violence:

  • Observing acts of violence, including domestic violence or violent crimes.
  • Witnessing riots or violent protests.

Medical Emergencies:

  • Dealing with severe medical emergencies, such as mass casualty events or severe injuries.
  • Providing emergency medical care under extreme conditions.

Exposure to Deadly Conditions:

  • Working in hazardous environments with toxic chemicals, radiation, or severe weather.
  • Exposure to unsafe working conditions in deployed environments.

Friendly Fire Incidents:

  • Involvement in or witnessing incidents where friendly forces accidentally target their own.

Search and Rescue Operations:

  • Participating in search and rescue missions that expose service members to traumatic scenes or high-risk environments.
  • Engaging in rescue operations after natural disasters or accidents.

Specific Roles and Missions

First Responders:

  • Military police dealing with crime scenes, accidents, or violence.
  • Medics and firefighters responding to traumatic incidents or disasters.

Humanitarian Missions:

  • Participating in missions that involve extreme suffering, deprivation, or violence against civilians.
  • Witnessing the aftermath of conflict or disaster during humanitarian operations.

Peacekeeping or Occupation Duties:

  • Exposure to intense cultural or ethnic conflicts while serving in peacekeeping missions.
  • Witnessing or intervening in civilian casualties during peacekeeping or occupation duties.

Severe Training Accidents:

  • Experiencing or witnessing severe accidents during training exercises.
  • Involvement in training mishaps leading to serious injury or death.

Live-Fire Exercises:

  • Traumatic experiences during live-fire exercises, such as accidental discharges or near misses.
  • Experiencing or witnessing training-related fatalities or serious injuries.

Prolonged Exposure to Hostile Environments:

  • Long-term deployment in areas with constant threats, such as IEDs, snipers, or ambushes.
  • Experiencing sustained periods of high alert and danger.

Evacuation Under Fire:

  • Being evacuated from an area while under fire or during a significant threat.
  • Experiencing or witnessing hasty evacuations under combat conditions.

Establishing a Valid Stressor for PTSD Claims

To substantiate a claim, veterans should provide the VA with evidence such as:

  • Service Records: Documentation of assignments, awards, or incidents. This will be shown on your DD 214.
  • Buddy Statements: Testimonies from fellow service members in written format. These are critical to corroborate your PTSD stressor event.
  • Medical Records: Documentation of diagnoses and treatments. This is crucial!
  • Personal Statements: Detailed accounts from the veteran. Your lay testimony is credible to support a PTSD stressor event for VA rating purposes.

How the VA Reviews and Validates PTSD Stressors

The VA requires veteran’s to complete a VA Form 21-0781 Statement in Support of Claimed Mental Health Disorder(s) Due to an In-Service Traumatic Event(s).

Note: As of June 28, 2024, the VA has discontinued the use of VA Form 21-0781a, the Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for PTSD Secondary to Personal Assault. This form was previously used to gather additional information to support PTSD claims related to personal assault. The VA has combined this form into the new PDF version of VA Form 21-0781, the Statement in Support of Claimed Mental Health Disorder(s) Due to an In-Service Traumatic Event(s). Download the new form here.

Stressor EvidenceVBMS Development LanguageAttachment
Combat, fear, or hostile military or terrorist activities that cannot otherwise be corroborated based on evidence currently of record, and no VA Form 21-0781 submitted.PTSD—Need stressor details/med evid combat-related incdntVA Form 21-0781
Non-combat event such as a car accident, or hurricane, or does not mention a source for the stressor and does not provide details, and no VA Form 21-0781 submitted.PTSD—Need stressor details/med evid of stressful incdntVA Form 21-0781
MST or similar personal trauma event such as harassment, and no VA Form 21-0781 submitted.PTSD—Need stressor details/med evid personal trauma incdnt 

Important: Include the language in M21-1, Part VIII, Subpart iv, 1.B.2.e when sending an MST subsequent development letter to the Veteran.
VA Form 21-0781
Any of the above stressor types, and VA Form 21-0781 was submitted, but the Veteran failed to provide sufficient details for the stressor to be corroborated.PTSD—Follow Up for Stressor Details 

Important: Inform the Veteran of the specific information that is still needed to allow for corroboration. Include the language in M21-1, Part VIII, Subpart iv, 1.B.2.e when sending an MST subsequent development letter to the Veteran.
VA Form 21-10210, Lay/Witness Statement

Name: John Doe
Social Security Number: XXX-XX-XXXX
Branch of Service: U.S. Army
Service Period: January 2005 – January 2010
Unit: 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
MOS: Infantryman
Deployment: Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, April 2006 – April 2007

Description of Stressor Event(s)

Date of Incident: September 15, 2006
Location: Fallujah, Iraq

During my deployment to Fallujah, Iraq, I was involved in a series of combat operations as an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. On the night of September 15, 2006, our unit was tasked with conducting a raid on a suspected insurgent stronghold within the city.

As we approached the target building, our convoy came under heavy enemy fire from multiple directions. The insurgents were armed with small arms, machine guns, and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). During the initial exchange of fire, our lead vehicle was hit by an RPG, causing it to explode and killing all three occupants instantly.

Despite the chaos and intense enemy fire, we proceeded with the mission. As we breached the target building, I was directly involved in a close-quarters firefight with several insurgents. I vividly remember the confusion, the deafening sound of gunfire, and the sight of one of my closest friends, Specialist James Smith, being shot multiple times. Despite our efforts to provide immediate medical aid, Specialist Smith succumbed to his injuries on the spot.

The firefight continued for what felt like an eternity, but was likely around 20 minutes. We successfully neutralized the insurgent threat, but the cost was high. Along with Specialist Smith, two other members of my squad were wounded, and several insurgents were killed.

Impact on Mental Health

Since returning from deployment, I have experienced significant psychological distress directly related to this event. I have recurring nightmares about the firefight, particularly the moment Specialist Smith was killed. These nightmares often leave me feeling anxious and unable to sleep.

During the day, I experience intrusive thoughts and flashbacks that bring me back to that night in Fallujah. Loud noises, such as fireworks or car backfires, trigger intense panic attacks and hypervigilance. I find it extremely difficult to be in crowded places, as they remind me of the combat environment.

My personal relationships have also suffered. I struggle with feelings of guilt and anger, which have led to frequent arguments and a sense of isolation from my family and friends. I have been unable to hold down a steady job due to my symptoms, further exacerbating my feelings of worthlessness and depression.

Corroborating Evidence

  • Service Records: My service records confirm my deployment to Iraq and my assignment to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment during the specified period.
  • Buddy Statements: Attached are statements from Sergeant Michael Thompson and Corporal David Lee, who were present during the firefight and can corroborate the details of the incident and its impact on me.
  • Medical Records: I have included copies of my medical records from both my military service and my treatment at the VA, documenting my diagnosis of PTSD and ongoing mental health treatment.
  • Awards and Decorations: My awards, including the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) and Army Commendation Medal, further support my active involvement in combat operations during my deployment.

I respectfully request that my PTSD claim be considered with the understanding of the severe and lasting impact that this combat experience has had on my mental health and overall well-being. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Signature:
John Doe
Date: [Current Date]

Non-Combat VA PTSD Stressor Statement Example

Name: Jane Smith
Social Security Number: XXX-XX-XXXX
Branch of Service: U.S. Navy
Service Period: March 2010 – March 2014
Unit: Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton
MOS: Hospital Corpsman
Location: Camp Pendleton, California

Description of Stressor Event(s)

Date of Incident: August 20, 2012
Location: Camp Pendleton, California

During my service as a Hospital Corpsman at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, I was part of the emergency response team. On August 20, 2012, I was called to respond to a severe vehicle accident on base. A military transport vehicle had collided with a civilian car at high speed, resulting in multiple casualties.

When I arrived at the scene, it was chaotic and overwhelming. The transport vehicle was overturned, and the civilian car was severely damaged. I immediately began providing medical assistance to the injured. One of the most traumatic aspects of this incident was tending to a severely injured young Marine, Private First Class (PFC) Daniel Rodriguez. He was trapped in the wreckage, suffering from multiple fractures, internal injuries, and significant blood loss.

Despite my efforts and those of my team, PFC Rodriguez’s condition deteriorated rapidly. I was holding his hand and talking to him, trying to keep him conscious, but he succumbed to his injuries before we could extract him from the vehicle. The sight of his lifeless body, the smell of blood, and the sound of his labored breathing are memories that have haunted me ever since.

Additionally, there were two other fatalities, including the civilian driver. The entire scene was one of intense distress and helplessness. The aftermath of the accident required extensive cleanup and dealing with the grief and shock of both military personnel and civilians involved.

Impact on Mental Health

Since that day, I have been struggling with severe psychological symptoms that I believe are directly related to this incident. I experience recurrent and distressing flashbacks of the accident scene, especially the moment PFC Rodriguez died in my care. These flashbacks are often triggered by the sight of accidents, emergency sirens, or even specific smells associated with the trauma.

I suffer from persistent nightmares where I relive the accident, waking up in a state of panic and anxiety. My sleep is frequently disrupted, leaving me exhausted and on edge during the day. I also have significant difficulty in managing my emotions, experiencing bouts of intense sadness, anger, and irritability.

Socially, I have become increasingly withdrawn. I avoid gatherings and events that involve large groups of people or any situation that might remind me of the trauma. My relationships with family and friends have deteriorated due to my inability to communicate my feelings and the isolation I have imposed on myself.

Professionally, my symptoms have severely impacted my ability to work. I have trouble focusing and maintaining the emotional stability required to perform my duties as a medical professional. This has resulted in my inability to maintain steady employment since leaving the military.

Corroborating Evidence

  • Service Records: My service records confirm my assignment to Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton and my role as a Hospital Corpsman.
  • Buddy Statements: Attached are statements from Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Mark Davis and Lieutenant (LT) Susan Green, who were present at the scene and can corroborate the details of the incident and its impact on me.
  • Medical Records: I have included copies of my medical records from both my military service and my treatment at the VA, documenting my diagnosis of PTSD and ongoing mental health treatment.
  • Incident Report: A copy of the official incident report from the vehicle accident on August 20, 2012, is included to substantiate the event and my involvement.

I respectfully request that my PTSD claim be considered with the understanding of the severe and lasting impact that this non-combat traumatic experience has had on my mental health and overall well-being. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Signature:
Jane Smith
Date: [Current Date]

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) VA PTSD Stressor Statement Example

Name: Sarah Johnson
Social Security Number: XXX-XX-XXXX
Branch of Service: U.S. Air Force
Service Period: June 2012 – June 2016
Unit: 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron
MOS: Logistics Specialist
Location: Moody Air Force Base, Georgia

Description of Stressor Event(s)

Date of Incident: November 15, 2014
Location: Moody Air Force Base, Georgia

During my service as a Logistics Specialist with the 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, I experienced a traumatic event that has had a profound impact on my mental health. On the evening of November 15, 2014, I attended a unit social gathering at the base recreation center. This event, intended to foster camaraderie among unit members, turned into a nightmare for me.

After a few hours at the event, I decided to leave and head back to my dorm. As I was walking to my car in the parking lot, I was approached by Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Michael Harris, a colleague from my unit. SSgt Harris offered to walk me to my car, and I accepted, thinking it was a friendly gesture. However, once we reached my car, SSgt Harris forcibly grabbed me and pushed me into the back seat. Despite my attempts to resist and plead for him to stop, he overpowered me and sexually assaulted me.

The assault was brutal and left me physically and emotionally shattered. After he left, I was in a state of shock and disbelief. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. The next day, I reported the assault to my superior officer and sought medical attention. A formal investigation was launched, and SSgt Harris was eventually court-martialed and discharged from the Air Force.

Impact on Mental Health

Since the assault, I have been struggling with severe psychological symptoms that I believe are directly related to this incident. I experience recurrent and distressing flashbacks of the assault, often triggered by situations or environments that remind me of that night. These flashbacks are accompanied by intense feelings of fear, helplessness, and panic.

I suffer from persistent nightmares where I relive the assault, waking up in a state of terror and anxiety. My sleep is frequently disrupted, leaving me exhausted and on edge during the day. I also have significant difficulty in managing my emotions, experiencing bouts of intense sadness, anger, and irritability.

Socially, I have become increasingly withdrawn. I avoid gatherings and events that involve large groups of people or any situation that might remind me of the trauma. My relationships with family and friends have deteriorated due to my inability to communicate my feelings and the isolation I have imposed on myself.

Professionally, my symptoms have severely impacted my ability to work. I have trouble focusing and maintaining the emotional stability required to perform my duties as a logistics specialist. This has resulted in my inability to maintain steady employment since leaving the military.

Corroborating Evidence

  • Service Records: My service records confirm my assignment to the 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Moody Air Force Base during the specified period.
  • Buddy Statements: Attached are statements from Senior Airman (SrA) Emily Roberts and Technical Sergeant (TSgt) James Lee, who were aware of the incident and can corroborate its impact on me.
  • Medical Records: I have included copies of my medical records from both my military service and my treatment at the VA, documenting my diagnosis of PTSD and ongoing mental health treatment.
  • Investigation Report: A copy of the official investigation report from the assault on November 15, 2014, is included to substantiate the event and my involvement.

I respectfully request that my PTSD claim be considered with the understanding of the severe and lasting impact that this traumatic experience has had on my mental health and overall well-being. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Signature:
Sarah Johnson
Date: [Current Date]

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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