PTSD As A Disability: What You Need To Know.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)¹ is a psychological condition. Because PTSD is so severe and potentially debilitating, there is much debate about whether PTSD is a disability. This is a tricky question to answer.

While PTSD is a psychological condition or disorder, it can create forms of impairment or disability significantly affecting people’s lives long-term.

In certain cases, the Social Security Administration² (SSA) considers PTSD a disability, allowing people with the condition to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Veterans³ with PTSD can also receive disability compensation.

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Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD involves a wide range of symptoms, many of which can potentially be impairing or disabling. The DSM-5,⁴ a manual that defines psychological conditions, lists the symptoms of PTSD.

The manual breaks down symptoms into four categories:

  1. Intrusion symptoms: These include flashbacks and dissociation

  2. Avoidance symptoms: Avoiding any triggers or reminders and blocking thoughts

  3. Negative alterations in cognition and mood symptoms: Involving mostly low mood and emotional states such as numbness and inability to feel happy or excited.

  4. Hyperarousal and reactivity turbulence symptoms: Including anger outbursts, hypervigilance, and self-destructive behaviors

According to the DSM-5, to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must fulfill certain requirements. You need to experience at least one symptom from both categories 1 and 2, and at least two symptoms from both categories 3 and 4.

These symptoms must be present for at least a month and must be resulting in functional impairment, such as affecting the ability to work or socialize.

Critically, PTSD is not limited to these symptoms, and the condition can look entirely different for each person who experiences it. Many of these symptoms can be disabling, especially dissociation and outbursts of anger or harmful behaviors.

PTSD can also put people at risk of developing other highly disabling conditions such as:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • Depression

  • Anxiety disorder

  • Physical health issues

Filing for Social Security Disability with a PTSD diagnosis

People diagnosed with PTSD by a registered health professional may be eligible for Social Security Disability payments. In most cases, you can apply for SSDI online.⁵ Before you start your application, make sure you’re eligible.

For your PTSD to be considered a disability by the SSA, you must meet specific criteria⁶ in the "Blue Book," the SSA guide to various conditions.

You also need to meet some work requirements. An attorney or disability advocate may be able to help you determine if you meet the requirements, or you can complete a quiz.⁵ You may also get some support from your doctor, who will be familiar with the process.

Once you’ve established that you’re eligible, ask your doctor to fill out a Residual Functional Capacity Evaluation for you.

You must also put together your medical records in as much detail as possible. Records should include your anxiety or PTSD reactions, how severe/significant they are, and their effects. You should include your own and your doctor's views of your condition to give you the best chance of success.

You can also apply for disability payments online.⁷

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

If your employer is covered by this scheme, this act⁸ allows employees, under certain circumstances, to take a maximum of three months of leave within a year. During this period, they’re protected from losing their job.

This leave can be for severe medical conditions such as PTSD. Families of people who have served can also take 26 weeks of leave over a year to care for the service member if they have a significant condition like PTSD.

Impairments that qualify for PTSD disability benefits

People with PTSD can satisfy disability benefit criteria in a few ways.

Trauma and stressor-related disorders

The first way to qualify is through section 12.15 of the Blue Book⁶ on trauma and stressor-related disorders. For this, you need medical documentation of all of these:

  • Exposure to traumatic events – "actual or threatened death, serious injury or violence"

  • Flashbacks, intrusive memories, or dreams

  • Avoidance symptoms

  • Mood and behavioral symptoms

  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms

You must also fulfill one of the following two criteria:

Criteria One

Extreme limitation in one of the following, or significant limitation in two of the following:

  • Interacting with people

  • Comprehending, remembering, and being able to use information

  • Concentrating

  • Self-management and adaptation

Criteria Two

You must have had the condition for a minimum of two years, which must be well-documented in your medical records. It must also be considered serious. You must also have had both:

  • Treatment for your condition, including with a physician and in therapy; therapy or treatment should have somewhat helped with the symptoms of your disorder

  • An inability to adapt to your environment or any changes that might occur

Anxiety disorders

Another way you can qualify for disability benefits with PTSD is through the "Anxiety Disorders" section.

You must experience symptoms of anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Additionally, you must have either extreme limitation of mental functioning or "serious and persistent" symptoms lasting two or more years that can be documented. You must also meet either Section A or B:

Section A

You need to have at least two of the following:

  • Significant restriction of normal daily activities

  • Severe issues with social functioning

  • Significant difficulties with concentration or maintaining activities

  • Extending periods of psychiatric symptoms that get worse

Section B

You need medical records proving that your PTSD prevents you from functioning alone outside the home.

People also ask: How can I talk to someone now?

To contact⁹ the Social Security Administration in the US, call 1-800-772-1213 between 8 AM and 7 PM Monday to Friday. Alternatively, you can seek support from most attorneys or disability advocacy organizations.

Filing for Veterans Affairs disability benefit

Veterans can also apply for disability benefits. To be eligible, you must fulfill both of the following:

  • Current PTSD (or another condition of the body or mind)

  • "Served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training"

If you fulfill these requirements, you must have either:

  • Developed PTSD while serving (in-service disability claim)

  • Have had PTSD, which was made worse by serving (preservice disability claim)

  • Developed PTSD related to your active-duty service (postservice disability claim)

You will need medical and other documents to support your claim. Most eligible people can apply for the VA Disability benefit online.¹⁰

What does VA consider to be a traumatic event?

The VA considers a wide range of experiences to be traumatic events, and it isn't easy to make a comprehensive list. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Traumatic events can be experiences that occur during active service. In addition, you may have experienced a traumatic event earlier in life, even in childhood, that was made worse by your service.

Documenting your PTSD for Social Security

Gathering all medical notes, including those from any therapy appointments, is critical. Applying for disability can be complex, and many people who don’t provide the correct paperwork are denied.

Therefore, it’s essential to gather every piece of evidence you have available to you. Consult an attorney or disability advocate if you're unsure. Proper preparation can help you put your best foot forward for the application process.

Additional resources

PTSD is a serious condition, and applying for disability can be difficult and complex. Here are some links that may help with the process.

Please reach out if you’re a veteran struggling with PTSD or any other form of psychological distress. Seek help here:

  • Veterans Crisis Line¹¹

Other resources for veterans:

  • Benefit rates from the Department of Veterans Affairs¹²

The lowdown

PTSD is a serious, potentially debilitating psychological condition. While it’s not defined as a disability by psychologists, it can lead to many disabling illnesses and experiences. Therefore, some people with PTSD are eligible for disability benefits.

Members of the general public can apply for Social Security Disability. It’s vital to check eligibility criteria as there are a few categories on which you can base your application.

Your doctor will probably need to support your application, in addition to filling out their own sections. Gather as many medical records and documents as possible. Veterans could apply for the Veterans Affairs Disability benefit if their service caused or worsened existing PTSD.

Usually, applications for all of these benefits can be made online. The application process can be complex, but many online resources are available that can help.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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