What is PTSD and how to determine if you should file a claim for it

What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, also known as a stressor.  When you are in the military, you may see combat. You may have been on missions that exposed you to horrible and life-threatening experiences. These types of events can lead to PTSD.

stressor is a traumatic event (or series of events) in which an individual has been personally or indirectly exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

Evidence Required To Claim PTSD

Service connection for posttraumatic stress disorder requires medical evidence diagnosing the condition in accordance with 38 CFR 4.125credible supporting evidence that the claimed in-service stressor actually occurred, and a link, established by medical evidence, between current symptoms and an in-service stressor; and credible supporting evidence that the claimed in-service stressor occurred.

Stressor verification information can often be found in the Veteran’s service records or other official documents. Here are examples of the types of official service records that may be useful in stressor verification:

  • service personnel records and pay records
  • military occupation evidence
  • hazard pay records
  • service treatment records (STRs)
  • military performance reports
  • verification that the Veteran received Combat/Imminent Danger/Hostile Fire Pay
  • unit and organizational histories
  • daily staff journals
  • operational reports-lessons learned (ORLLs)
  • after action reports (AARs)
  • radio logs, deck logs, and ship histories
  • muster rolls
  • command chronologies and war diaries, and
  • monthly summaries and morning reports

Stressor Claim Types

There are different stressor types that a Veteran’s claim can fall under. Claims can be based on a stressor related to:

  • PTSD is diagnosed in service, and the stressor is related to that service
  • Stressor is related to the Veterans’ engagement in direct combat, or experience as a former prisoner of war (FPOW), or fear or stressful event in hostile military zone

Engaging in direct combat with the enemy means personal participation in events constituting an actual fight or encounter with a military foe or hostile unit or instrumentality.  It includes presence during such events either as a combatant, or service member performing duty in support of combatants, such as providing medical care to the wounded.

Fear or stressful event in hostile military zone or terrorist activity means the Veteran experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or circumstance that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of the Veteran or others, and the Veteran’s response to the event or circumstances involved a psychological or psycho-physiological state of fear, helplessness, or horror.

  1. Examples of exposure to hostile military or terrorist activity include presence at events involving actual or potential improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-embedded explosive devices, incoming artillery, rocket, or mortar fire, small arms fire, including suspected sniper fire, or attacks upon friendly aircraft.

Non-Combat Stressors

Non-combat events involve specific incidents other than engaging in combat with the enemy or fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Examples of non-combat stressors may include:

  • natural disasters
  • life threatening disease of self or significant other
  • duty on burn ward
  • graves registration
  • witnessing the death, injury, or threat to the physical integrity of another person not caused by the enemy
  • actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity not caused by the enemy
  • ship sinking, explosion, and/or plane crash during routine drills, or
  • friendly fire that occurs on a gunnery range during a training mission.

The main distinction between a combat and non-combat stressor is that the non-combat stressor must always be corroborated with credible supporting evidence.  The Veteran’s lay statement, in the absence of any other credible evidence, cannot serve as evidence for verification of the stressor.