Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Workers' Comp

Find out how workers compensation works for PTSD and if a lawyer may be required to file a claim for benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If a traumatic event occurs while you are working (and acting in the scope of your employment) and you suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result, your condition will likely be covered by workers' compensation.

That means you'll be eligible for cash benefits without having to prove fault on the part of your employer.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by witnessing a severe or traumatic event.

People with PTSD can experience a wide variety of psychological symptoms. Everyone responds to trauma differently, so everyone will have differing symptoms. For some, post-traumatic stress disorder may cause mild anxiety and depression. These individuals may require only periodic treatment, but can otherwise return to work full-time at their regular job. Others may have severe reactions that negatively affect their jobs and their personal relationships.

PTSD Symptoms

Common emotional or mental symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • being easily startled or jumpy
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • emotional detachment
  • irritability and anger
  • self-destructive or violent behavior
  • obsessive compulsive behavior
  • memory and concentration problems, and
  • nightmares.

Stress doesn't just affect the mind; it also has a negative affect on the body. Common physical symptoms of PTSD include:

  • headaches
  • ulcers
  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea, or
  • fatigue.

While workers' compensation laws will allow you to receive some level of benefits regardless of the severity of PTSD, the more severe cases will receive more benefits, because the detrimental impact of the PTSD is more severe.

For that reason, it is important to report all of the above symptoms to your doctor if you think you have work-related PTSD.

Seeking Treatment for PTSD

If you think you might have post-traumatic stress disorder, do not wait to seek out medical treatment. Waiting can increase your symptoms of anxiety, make your treatment take longer, and jeopardize your right to file a workers' compensation claim.

A mental health condition is no less serious than a physical injury and must be addressed in the same manner. If you think you may have a work-related PTSD claim, talk to your employer and your doctor right away.

Common Workers' Compensation Claims for PTSD

Some occupations are particularly susceptible to traumatic events, such as police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Any high stress or dangerous environment can place workers at risk of developing PTSD. Another frequent source of work-related PTSD claims involves accidents in which one employee witnesses another employee die or suffer serious injury.

Unlike average job stress, PTSD is usually triggered by a horrific event, such as an assault, gruesome accident, or other terrifying situation. Those suffering from this condition may be unable to work due to the severe mental and physical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even for those who can work, PTSD often requires years of regular medical treatment.

PTSD can be a standalone workers' compensation claim or arise in connection with a physical injury or other mental health condition. Frequently, a worker injured in a severe accident will recover from the physical injuries, but suffer from a lingering PTSD condition for many years following the accident. That worker has a workers' compensation claim that will include compensation for the physical injuries and for PTSD.

Sometimes, a worker's only injury was development of PTSD. This happens often when a worker witnesses an accident, but is not involved in the accident. That worker, too, has a workers' compensation claim for the PTSD.

Filing a Workers' Comp Claim for PTSD

If you believe you may have PTSD due to a workplace incident, talk to your doctor and your employer as soon as possible. There are strict deadlines for reporting workplace injuries, and you do not want to lose your right to receive workers' compensation benefits. Your employer and/or doctor will provide you with the forms necessary to file the workers' compensation claim in your state.

Workers' compensation benefits can provide the time off work and treatment resources needed to heal the psychological scars. Benefits may include payment for lost wages, coverage of all medical treatment related to the PTSD, and, if you never fully recover, compensation for permanent mental health impairment.

You will also be eligible for similar benefits pertaining to any other mental health or physical conditions related to the workplace injury.

Contact a Workers' Comp Attorney

It is never easy to win a stress-related workers' comp clam. Anyone suffering from PTSD due to a workplace accident or event should consider contacting a workers' comp attorney, who can help make the workers' comp claims process a less confusing and stressful ordeal.

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