To prove PTSD to VA and establish direct service connection, veterans must satisfy the following elements:
A Current Diagnosis Of PTSD
It is important to keep in mind that veterans will not be eligible to receive VA disability benefits if they are not currently diagnosed with PTSD. For service connection purposes, VA requires a formal diagnosis from a qualified health professional- be it a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a general practitioner- made using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).
The traumatic event or incident that caused the veteran’s PTSD is known as a “stressor”. Overall, the occurrence of stressors should be consistent with the circumstances of veteran’s services. In some cases, veterans would have to provide VA with evidence to back up the reported stressor. Backed-up evidence involves evidence from a source other than the veteran, supporting the fact that the claimed-in-service stressor occurred. Evidence could include buddy statements, military records, newspaper articles, police reports, and more. However, there are situations in which veterans do not have to provide stressor verification:
If a veteran’s stressor is related to combat, VA has specific regulations on how to adjudicate the veteran’s PTSD claim. Especially if the veteran’s stressor stems from their time in combat, VA should presume that their PTSD is a result of their combat service and give service connection.
Fear Of Hostile Military Or Terrorist Activity
In this scenario, a lay statement may be helpful to outline the circumstances surrounding the veteran’s fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Again, the veteran’s report should match the circumstances, places, and type of service. For these types of stressors, veterans will often need a qualified healthcare professional to determine that their diagnosed PTSD result is because of the fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, but no other stressor verification is needed.
Prisoner Of War
A prisoner of war is someone who was forcibly detained during the line of duty by an enemy government or hostile forces. For prisoners of war with PTSD, a lay statement alone is enough to prove their in-service stressor to VA. From there, service connection should be resumed.
Military Sexual Trauma
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) involves an incident in service in which a service member is physically assaulted, or is a victim of battery of a sexual nature, or experiences sexual harassment. MST can service as a stressor event in PTSD cases. However, there is a lower doorway for verification as VA recognizes that MST often goes unreported in the military. Evidence can take different forms compared to evidence used in cases with other stressors, it includes the following:
- Mental health treatment
- Sexually transmitted disease tests or diagnoses
- Instances of pregnancy
- Pregnancy tests
- Rape crisis center reports
Veterans can also use evidence of a change in behavior in service to verify MST stressors:
- Bad conduct notices
- Evidence of poor performance
- Requests for transfer
The last step in proving PTSD to VA involves establishing a medical nexus (link) between your PTSD and the in-service stressor. Though, a medical nexus is not required in cases where PTSD is presumed to be connected to your service as described above. But, when it is necessary, it must demonstrate that your PTSD is at least as likely as not related to your in-service stressor. VA will likely obtain a medical opinion regarding this nexus but, it is important to remember that you are able to seek an opinion from a psychological expert as well.
If you need help getting a service connection please contact us or book an appointment with a claim specialist.