According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health problem suffered by troops returning from combat. If you're a veteran of the United States Armed Forces, and have developed symptoms of PTSD as a result of your service, you're likely eligible for a PTSD VA disability rating.
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that develops after you've experienced an extremely shocking, scary, or dangerous event. For veterans, the traumatic event often involves exposure to a life-threatening incident, whether for themselves or others. (In the past, PTSD has also been called "war neurosis," "shell shock," and "battle fatigue.") Violence, sexual assault, serious accidents, and natural disasters are other common causes of PTSD in veterans.
Veterans with a PTSD diagnosis experience intense fear, helplessness, or horror related to the traumatic event. They may experience symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, paranoia, and a heightened state of alertness ("hypervigilance").
While most people experience some distress related to tense or unpleasant situations, PTSD symptoms occur for longer than one month and cause significant disruption in social or work-related functioning.
If you're a veteran who struggles with symptoms related to a traumatic event ("stressor"), the VA can assign you a disability rating for PTSD if you meet all of the following requirements:
Proving the relationship between your PTSD diagnosis, your current symptoms, and your in-service stressor is called "establishing service connection."
Prior to 2010, veterans had to provide documentation of the stressor that caused their PTSD symptoms—a requirement that was often time-consuming and difficult to fulfill. Now, the VA will usually find a veterans' testimony to be sufficient to establish a service connection for PTSD. For example:
But if the VA finds that "clear and convincing evidence" exists that no stressor occurred, the department won't find a service connection. However, that standard is a high bar—basically, there needs to be documentation that a stressor didn't occur—so most veterans with PTSD won't need to worry.
The VA evaluates PTSD disability compensation claims according to the Schedule of Rating Disabilities. Section 4.130 of the Schedule lists several dozen mental disorders that are eligible for a VA disability rating, including PTSD (diagnostic code 9411).
PTSD VA ratings are based on how severely symptoms of the disorder impair a veteran's everyday life and ability to work. The VA uses the General Rating Formula for mental disorders to decide what disability rating percentage to assign a veteran struggling with PTSD. Ratings range between 0%-100%, depending on the degree of impairment, as follows:
If the PTSD symptoms are the result of a highly stressful event that required a service member to be released from military duty early, the VA will assign the member a temporary disability rating of 50%. Within six months of discharge, the VA will conduct another evaluation to determine if the rating should be changed.
You can apply for VA disability compensation online, in person, or over the phone with your VA regional office, or by printing out and mailing VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits to the following address:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
Veterans who file a claim for disability benefits due to PTSD need to submit one of two additional forms with the application:
After you file your claim for PTSD disability benefits, the VA will likely require you to attend a compensation and pension (C&P) exam to discuss how your symptoms affect your life. Many veterans are unsure what to say to get disability for PTSD, and it can be hard to open up to the doctor. Honesty is the best policy—don't downplay your symptoms, but don't exaggerate them either.
To help veterans assess their mental health symptoms, the VA offers a free, anonymous online screening for PTSD. You can also learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder at the VA's National Center for PTSD.
Veterans who are unable to work full-time due to PTSD symptoms may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. For more information, see our article on Social Security disability benefits for PTSD.
Updated June 5, 2023