Social Security Disability for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (2023)

To qualify for disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Social Security will look at your doctor's notes, medications, and activities of daily living.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can develop after you've experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. The specific causes of PTSD are varied, but some common traumatic events include exposure to war, violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, crime, a serious accident, or a natural disaster.

You might have seen PTSD called different terms when referring to veterans (like "shell shock" or "combat fatigue"), but anybody can develop PTSD. The terms "PTSD" or "PTSI" (post-traumatic stress injury) are relatively recent, but people have known for a long time that trauma can affect your brain even after the traumatic event has ended.

Is PTSD a Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that symptoms from PTSD can prevent you from working. For example, you might have recurring flashbacks and nightmares that can disrupt your daily routine. Other symptoms of PTSD can include:

(Video) Social Security Disability for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress)

  • angry outbursts
  • extreme fear that the traumatic event will happen again
  • being overly alert and aware of your surroundings ("hypervigilance"), and
  • a tendency to be easily startled.

If you're experiencing these symptoms, it's best to contact a psychologist or psychiatrist to determine whether you have a post-traumatic stress disability such as PTSD or PTSI. Your doctor will conduct a "mental status examination," where you'll answer questions about your history, your current mood, and your thought process. Your answers will help your doctor make the right diagnosis.

Doctors offer many ways to treat PTSD. Your doctor will likely recommend that you see a counselor or therapist. A therapist can help you develop stress management skills to better handle your PTSD symptoms. Your doctor can also recommend antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications to improve any problems you might have with sleep or concentration.

Can I Get Social Security Disability for PTSD?

Social Security can find you disabled "medically" or "vocationally." Medical disability means that your medical record documents symptoms or test results that the SSA has already determined are enough to find you disabled under its "listing" of disorders. (The listing of disorders contains impairments that the SSA thinks are serious enough to find you disabled without deciding that you can't do any jobs.) If you're approved through a vocational allowance, that means the SSA has found that your particular limitations make it impossible for you to do any job.

Qualifying Under the Medical Listing for PTSD

Social Security evaluates PTSD under the listing for "trauma- and stressor-related disorders," listing 12.15. For the SSA to find that you're medically disabled because of your post-traumatic stress disorder, you'll have to satisfy the requirements set out below.

(Video) Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits with PTSD

First, your medical record must contain evidence of each of the following:

  • exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence
  • involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event (for example, intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks)
  • avoidance of external reminders of the event
  • disturbance in mood and behavior, and
  • increases in arousal and reactivity (for example, exaggerated startle response or sleep disturbance).

To find this evidence, the SSA will look at your doctor's treatment notes to see what medications you take, how you feel and act during doctor's appointments or counseling sessions, and the results of your mental status examinations. Make sure to let the SSA know if you are hospitalized or switch doctors so the agency can get the important evidence it needs.

Next, Social Security will look to see how much your symptoms limit your mental abilities. Simply having a diagnosis isn't enough—you'll need to show that your PTSD causes an "extreme" (debilitating) limitation in one, or a "marked" (intense, but not debilitating) limitation in two, of the following areas:

  • understanding, remembering, or using information (learning new things, applying new knowledge to tasks, following instructions)
  • interacting with others in socially appropriate ways
  • being able to concentrate on tasks to complete them at a reasonable pace
  • adapting or managing oneself (regulating emotions, handling changes, having practical personal skills like paying bills, shopping, hygiene).

Proving these limitations can be tricky because terms like "marked" and "extreme" are subjective and not very well-defined. To help the SSA understand how you meet these criteria, it's a good idea to ask your treating psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or therapist to write a medical source statement. Having multiple providers who can provide evidence that your limitations are medically disabling strengthens your claim.

(Video) PTSD and Social Security Disability: Winning Strategies

Most claimants (applicants) whom Social Security finds medically disabled because of PTSD do have evidence of marked or extreme limitations. But Social Security can find that you're medically disabled without those limitations if you can show that you're only able to function as well as you do because you get a lot of help. The SSA will look for evidence of a support system that you can't function without, such as social workers, group homes, or family members who make sure that you're taking care of yourself.

Qualifying Vocationally for PTSD If You Don't Meet the Medical Listing

PTSD can affect every person differently. Your symptoms might not cause marked or extreme limitations, but they can still prevent you from working. If your medical record is supportive, Social Security can still find you disabled "vocationally" even when they don't think you're disabled under the medical listing for PTSD.

To figure out whether you can work any jobs, Social Security will want to know all the ways that PTSD interferes with your activities of daily living (ADLs). The agency asks you about your ADLs because it makes sense that something you're having trouble doing at home would be something you'd struggle with at work.

For example, if your mind is so preoccupied with revisiting a traumatic event that you're having difficulty paying attention to a TV show, you might have a hard time following simple instructions from an employer. Or, if you frequently yell at your friends and family when irritable, it's unlikely that you'll do well in a job where you'd have to deal with the other employees or the public.

(Video) Make Your PTSD Disability Case Stronger with a Written Summary of Your Trauma

The SSA will look at your medical records and your ADLs to determine what you can and can't do mentally. Because the SSA needs to see that your limitations prevent you from doing any work, the agency will then take these medical limitations and translate them into terms a vocational expert would understand. This process is called assessing your "residual functional capacity" (RFC). For example, any difficulty you have concentrating might be explained in your RFC as "off-task" behavior. Too much time spent off-task means that no employers would hire you for full-time work.

People with PTSD are often diagnosed with other mental impairments such as anxiety and depression. Be sure to document any treatment you're receiving for these conditions as well. Social Security will look at the combined effect of your impairments when assessing your RFC. So even if your PTSD is not disabling by itself, if you have other conditions, the combination of your limitations can add up to a disabling RFC.

How Do I Apply for Disability Benefits for PTSD?

An easy way to start your disability application is to file online with Social Security. You don't have to finish the application all at once; just make sure that you keep track of the application number given to you when you start the application so you can access it again if you need to come back to it.

You can also apply for disability benefits over the phone by calling 800-772-1213 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.

(Video) SS Listings | PTSD Case Example

Finally, you can apply for disability benefits in person at your local Social Security field office. You can locate your field office here.

If you'd like help with your application, think about working with an experienced disability attorney. According to a survey of our readers, applicants who filed an initial application without expert help were denied 80% of the time. If you aren't sure whether you qualify for disability benefits, consider getting a free case evaluation from one of our legal professionals.

Updated November 17, 2022


Is it hard to get Social Security disability for PTSD? ›

Social Security disability claims based on PTSD are never easy to get approved. Mental health claims require expert understanding of the above evaluation process, as well as compelling medical evidence.

How much disability will I get for PTSD? ›

Understanding Your VA Disability Rating for PTSD

VA disability ratings range from 0% to 100%, but for PTSD claims, the standard ratings are 0%, 30%, 50%, 70%, and 100%. These ratings are meant to capture the severity of your condition, and how much it affects your ability to work and take care of everyday life stuff.

How do I prove my Social Security disability for PTSD? ›

In order for you to get PTSD disability (i.e., disability for PTSD), you need to have as much medical documentation as possible. In your application, the SSA will ask for your medical records, including hospital records and clinic notes from physicians, therapists, and counselors.

Do I qualify for disability if I have PTSD? ›

You may be eligible for disability benefits if you have symptoms related to a traumatic event (the “stressor”) or your experience with the stressor is related to the PTSD symptoms, and you meet all of these requirements.

How long does a PTSD disability claim take? ›

You will generally get an initial rating within six months of filing a claim, but the actual length of time for claims has varied widely from 90 days to 2 years.

How does PTSD limit your ability to work? ›

Now, symptoms of PTSD can interfere with the individual's ability to work in numerous ways. These include memory problems, lack of concentration, poor relationships with coworkers, trouble staying awake, fear, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional outbursts while at work, flashbacks, and absenteeism.

Is PTSD a total permanent disability? ›

Yes, PTSD is considered a permanent VA disability. The Department of Veteran Affairs recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder as a serious, life-altering mental condition and will award disability benefits to qualified veterans suffering from PTSD.

What is the most common disability rating for PTSD? ›

30% This disability rating is perhaps the most common one.

What qualifies for 100% PTSD rating? ›

100% – “Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including ...

What qualifies for a PTSD diagnosis? ›

To receive a diagnosis of PTSD, a person must have at least one re-experiencing symptom, at least three avoidance symptoms, at least two negative alterations in mood and cognition, and at least two hyperarousal symptoms for a minimum of one month.

What jobs can I do with PTSD? ›

Great job ideas for people with PTSD
  • Working with animals. Animals, such as dogs and horses, are often used in therapy for people with PTSD. ...
  • Maintenance and repair jobs. ...
  • Writer/editor. ...
  • Working outdoors. ...
  • Hospitality jobs.

Can you work with PTSD? ›

For too many people living with PTSD, it is not possible to work while struggling with its symptoms and complications. Some people do continue to work and are able to function for a period of time. They may have milder symptoms or be more able to hide their negative emotions and thoughts from others.

How often do PTSD claims get denied? ›

Additionally, appeals represent a third of the VA's pending disability claims which means 1 in 3 cases the VA is processing are veterans appealing a denial. The following information is provided to help you improve your chances of getting your VA benefits claim approved.

Why do PTSD claims get denied? ›

One of the most common reasons the VA gives for denying PTSD claims is lack of evidence. Obtaining the evidence the VA wants to see to approve a claim can be a challenge; however, it is possible. A knowledgeable PTSD appeals attorney can help veterans present a compelling application while saving them time and stress.

Can you get 100 percent disability for PTSD and still work? ›

With the 100 percent combined disability rating, you do not have any restrictions on work activity. If you meet the 100 percent rating for your service-connected condition, and you are still able to work, then you may do so.

Is it hard to hold a job with PTSD? ›

Your ability to work when you have PTSD can depend on the severity of your condition and the effect that treatments have on you. However, work can also have a positive effect on your mental health because it offers you: Structure and routine. A sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Is 70 percent PTSD permanent? ›

Although the terms “Permanent” and “Total” are often discussed together, it is possible to have a permanent disability that is not totally disabling. For example, a veteran may have a permanent disability (such as PTSD) at 70%. Her PTSD is not “Total” because it is less than 100%.

What percentage of PTSD claims are denied? ›

The VA denies around 30% of disability claims each year. It can be frustrating to learn that your claim for VA compensation was denied. You may feel like you did everything they asked of you and provided all the evidence necessary to get the disability compensation you deserve.

How do I win a PTSD claim? ›

How can I present a strong PTSD claim to the VA?
  1. Have a Qualified Medical Professional Write Your Nexus Letter. ...
  2. Gather Multiple Buddy Statements. ...
  3. Be Honest and Provide Clear Details During Your C&P Exam. ...
  4. Submit Applicable Private Medical Evidence. ...
  5. Get Help From an Experienced Attorney.

How is PTSD score calculated? ›

How is the PCL-5 scored and interpreted? Respondents are asked to rate how bothered they have been by each of 20 items in the past month on a 5- point Likert scale ranging from 0-4. Items are summed to provide a total severity score (range = 0-80).

What do I say in a PTSD claim? ›

Write very clearly, or type on a computer if you can. Describe the traumatic events in the order that they happened. Tell where the event happened, what unit you were in at the time, and when it happened (as best you can). Provide as much detail as you can and also describe the feelings you had about what happened.

What are secondary conditions of PTSD? ›

If you've been diagnosed with PTSD, chances are you suffer from what are known as secondary conditions. Some examples of conditions secondary to PTSD are sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hypertension, migraines, and erectile dysfunction.

What are the 5 signs of PTSD? ›

Reliving aspects of what happened
  • vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now)
  • intrusive thoughts or images.
  • nightmares.
  • intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma.
  • physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.

What is the most common drug prescribed for PTSD? ›

What are the best medications to treat PTSD?
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) is FDA-approved for treating PTSD, and it's one of the most common medications prescribed for this condition. ...
  • Paroxetine (Paxil) is the only other FDA-approved medication for PTSD. ...
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac) is used off-label for treating PTSD.
Jul 6, 2021

What are the 4 stages of PTSD? ›

PTSD can be divided into four phases: the impact phase, the rescue phase, the intermediate recovery phase, and the long-term reconstruction phase. The impact phase encompasses initial reactions such as shock, fear, and guilt.

Is fatigue a symptom of PTSD? ›

When there's an overload on the adrenal system, someone with PTSD might experience a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion and an overload of stress. The bottom line is that fatigue (and often inexplicable fatigue) very often accompanies symptoms of PSTD.

Can you get SSDI with 70% PTSD? ›

Yes, however, because most cases of PTSD, other than some veterans' cases are not severe enough for a sufficiently long period of time to qualify under the listing, you may still qualify for SSDI and SSI benefits under what is known as a “medical- vocational allowance”.

Can you get 100 disability for PTSD and still work? ›

With the 100 percent combined disability rating, you do not have any restrictions on work activity. If you meet the 100 percent rating for your service-connected condition, and you are still able to work, then you may do so.

How much is 70 percent VA disability? ›

As of December 1, 2021, veterans with a 70 percent VA disability rating receive $1,529.95 per month in VA compensation. This monetary benefit is tax free at both the federal and state levels.

How do you get 50% disability for PTSD? ›

To qualify for the automatic 50% PTSD rating a veteran must be discharged from active service as a result of their PTSD. The veteran must be experiencing enough symptoms that they cannot carry out their military duties, AND those symptoms must have been caused or worsened by a stressor or event during active service.

What is 80% of VA disability? ›

Veterans that obtain an 80 percent VA Disability rating receive $1,933.15 a month from the Veterans Administration. Eligible disabled veterans may also be able to receive extra monthly compensation for dependent children and parents.

What does 90% VA disability entitle you to? ›

Veterans who rate at 90 percent disabled may qualify for concurrent retired and disability pay (CRDP). CRDP restores your service pay by eliminating the VA waiver. There is no application process.

What does the VA pay for 60% disability? ›

How Much Compensation Do Veterans Rated at 60% Receive? As of December 1, 2022, veterans who are rated at 60 percent will receive $1,319.65 per month.


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