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PTSD and Social Security Disability Benefits

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience. It is important to remember that if you have PTSD and Social Security disability benefits would help you, you may also be eligible for both VA benefits and Social Security disability benefits. Although the common understanding of this illness is that it affects only combat veterans, it impacts many victims outside of the military arena. It can be a factor with victims of violent crimes or sexual abuse. A mugging, rape or even a terrifying burglary can trigger the illness.

The definition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has updated after a decade-long revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association, published in May of this year. These are the first changes since the condition was identified in 1980.

In the DSM-5, PTSD is in a new chapter on Trauma and Stress Related Disorders. It includes a sharper definition of traumatic events – now specifically including sexual assault, and a new recognition of the cumulative effect of trauma on people like first responders or police. The terminology of the DSM differs from that of Social Security regulations, and it takes careful work to develop the evidence to clarify the severity and functional impact of PTSD, and win Social Security benefits.

Whatever the cause, when the PTSD causes “clinically significant distress or impairment in the individual’s social interactions, capacity to work or other important areas of functioning,” Social Security regulations become relevant. For Social Security disability eligibility, the intrusive thoughts and reactions must interfere with the ability to work on a predictable, sustained basis.

Much of the research on this illness has come out of the Veterans Administration Medical Facilities, because of their deep experience in dealing with combat trauma. There are now over 200 specialized VA centers for PTSD treatment. Iraq and Afghanistan war vets have shown up on the doorsteps of VA health centers steadily since 2001 – and about one third have been seen for mental health issues.

We work with your medical providers to get details – not just a diagnosis. As always, Social Security wants to know the underlying symptoms and clinical findings that are the basis for the diagnosis, and the functional impairments that preclude working.

Further Resources:

NATIONAL CENTER for PTSD Home – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can occur after a traumatic event like war, assault, or disaster. PTSD treatment can help.

PTSD: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Alliance – A group of professional and advocacy organizations that have joined forces to provide educational resources to individuals diagnosed with PTSD and their loved ones; those at risk for developing PTSD; and medical, healthcare and other frontline professionals.

NAMI – Wonderful non-profit that offers support for a variety of mental illnesses, including PTSD.

For Veterans:

Veterans PTSD – Site is simple but has treatment ideas and stats.

Veterans PTSD Project – Aims to change the national conversation on Post-Traumatic Stress by collecting and publishing Service Members’ first-person.

SSA Wounded Warriors – Social Security Administrations site with specific info for our Wounded Warriors.

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