To win your veterans disability claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you have to know the building blocks of a successful claim. In this article we will walk you through the elements of how to prove PTSD to VA. While they are similar to what you must prove for other service-connected disabilities, there are some distinctions that are important to keep in mind.
The majority of PTSD claims are filed at some point after the veteran’s service has ended. The veteran is either not experiencing symptoms or is not diagnosed until sometime later, which can sometimes be many years after discharge. Therefore, this article focuses on those types of situations.
There are three main elements you need to understand in how to prove PTSD to VA:
- In-service stressor
- Medical “nexus” or link between your PTSD and the in service stressor.
Remember – if you were diagnosed in service, the rules are different.
To win your PTSD claim, it should be pretty obvious that you need a formal diagnosis of PTSD. The VA requires a diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and has had a number of different versions over the years.
The most current version is DSM-V (fifth version), and the VA formally adopted the DSM-V in August 2014. So, if you are diagnosed with PTSD in August 2014 or later, be sure that the doctor doing so is using the DSM-V. If your doctor uses DSM-IV or some other earlier version, the VA will not accept that as good evidence that you have been diagnosed with PTSD. The good news is that most doctors will be using the DSM-V by now. Also, the most recent DSMs (DSM-IV and V) have updated diagnostic criteria that may qualify some claims that may have failed before.
For any type of claim for veterans disability compensation benefits, you must have an in-service event, injury, or disease. A PTSD claim is no different. You must provide VA with some evidence that something happened during the time of your service that was a sufficiently stressful event.
Veterans and others often think of combat as the type of stressor that leads to PTSD. While many of our clients have seen and experienced terrible events during combat that triggered their PTSD, you may have experienced other similarly stressful events outside of combat. We have represented veterans who have witnessed horrific fatal accidents in non-combat situations, handled the bodies of dead fellow service members being returned from a combat zone, and other similarly traumatizing situations.
Some other examples of in-service stressors include experiencing or witnessing rape or military sexual trauma, physical attack, explosion, or natural disaster. If your claimed stressor is not related to combat or the fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, you will need to provide corroborating evidence to prove the stressor. Corroborating evidence is simply evidence from a source other than you (another person, military records, newspaper accounts, etc.) that confirms the event you are claiming.
A Nexus or Link Between Your PTSD and Your In-Service Stressor
Once you have those first two requirements out of the way – a PTSD diagnosis and proof of a stressor in service – you will need to “connect the dots” as required by VA regulations. That means medical evidence connecting your PTSD to the events you experienced in service.
To be sufficient, it should be an opinion from a psychiatrist, psychologist, although the VA may accept an opinion from someone with less training such as a licensed therapist, counselor, or clinical social worker. But remember, if the VA obtains an opinion about this link, it will probably be from a psychiatrist or psychologist. So you want someone whose opinion will carry the same or more weight as the opinion that VA may get.
Know When to Reach Out For Help
Just as it is difficult for some of those struggling with PTSD to admit they need help fighting this disorder, it can be difficult to realize you need help with your PTSD VA claim as well. While we have boiled down how to prove PTSD to VA into three basic steps here, each one is full of twists and turns that can cause VA to deny your claim.