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Proving a Service-Related Traumatic Stressor for PTSD Disability Claims

Posted by Gregory M. Rada | Disability Compensation

Military service can expose service members to a variety of stressful and tense situations on a daily basis. It is impossible to prepare for how to deal with some of the scenarios that can occur. Servicemembers returning from conflict zones are particularly at risk for developing long-term and debilitating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can be triggered by repeated exposure to stressful events or experiencing one especially traumatic stressor.

PTSD can lead to disability and the inability to work, and symptoms are often ignored or inadequately treated for years after the condition first starts. Disability compensation from the Veterans Administration (VA) is available for those who suffer from PTSD, but between the stigma associated with psychological conditions, and how complicated the VA makes it win approval for benefits, disability compensation can feel out of reach.

One of the more difficult requirements to prove in a claim for service connection for PTSD is the service-related traumatic stressor that led to PTSD. Much of this is due to the fact that few servicemembers seek treatment until symptoms are severe, meaning there is not much of an in-service record of what the person was experiencing. Oftentimes, the traumatic stressor is not documented in a service record, especially in the case of military sexual trauma. Even in these situations, though, it is still possible to prove PTSD was caused by military service.


Requirement of Evidence of a Stressor in Service

In order to win a claim for service connection for PTSD, the record must contain credible evidence supporting the veteran’s description of the in-service stressor. PTSD can be caused by any number of traumatic stressors, such as experiencing or witnessing a rape, combat, physical assault, car crash, natural disaster, or working in a mortuary or burn care unit.

If a veteran has evidence of combat service, such as the receipt of the Combat Infantryman Badge, VA will concede the stressor occurred based on the veteran’s description alone. Additionally, VA will concede a stressor occurred based on a veteran’s lay testimony alone when a veteran claims “fear of hostile military or terrorist attack” and the claimed stressor is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the veteran’s service. An example of this would be a veteran who deployed to Iraq but did not engage in combat or even leave the base but experienced indirect mortar or rocket attack.

In almost all other cases, however, the veteran will need credible evidence that the stressor occurred.

How to Get Service and Medical Records

Service records and service treatment records may contain credible evidence of a stressor. However, this assumes the stressor incident was reported and documented or the servicemember sought mental health treatment or was forthcoming when asked about psychological issues. Some servicemembers with PTSD seek help from outside health care providers to avoid detection by superiors, which can also be good evidence.

However, even without evidence of medical treatment, the service record itself can be credible evidence of a PTSD stressor. Indicators of a PTSD stressor may be present if there were sudden changes in behavior after the claimed stressor, such as insubordination or discipline. Sudden requests to change the duty station or unit could also serve as evidence of a PTSD stressor.


How to Find PTSD Support

If medical or service records are not sufficient to show a PTSD stressor occurred, there are other types of evidence a veteran can submit to show a stressor event occurred. Statements from friends, other servicemembers, or family members who have direct knowledge of the traumatic event, through witnessing it firsthand, discussing it with the claimant, or noticing a behavior change can be very persuasive. Additionally, documentation from support groups or organizations showing that the veteran seeking help can also be important to submit for consideration.


How to Appeal to the VA for PTSD

Dealing with the VA for a disability compensation claim can be frustrating and overwhelming. Being granted service connection for PTSD often requires detailed knowledge of the process and what adjudicators want to see. Gregory M. Rada, Attorney at Law, knows the battle you are facing to get the benefits you deserve and will use this knowledge to your advantage. Working with disabled veterans nationwide, me today at (844) 838-7529 for a free phone consultation.