I have PTSD: Can I Get Social Security Disability Benefits?

I have PTSD: Can I Get Social Security Disability Benefits?

Not all war wounds are immediately visible. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a higher rate than veterans of any other conflict in American history. As outlined below, even if you receive other benefits, like Defense Base Act benefits, you could also be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

These injuries are certainly not unique to Southwest Asia campaigns. Back during the Civil War, many soldiers exhibited what we recognize as classic PTSD symptoms, like hypervigilance, depression, and extreme mood swings. But doctors diagnosed this condition as nostalgia, which was basically an advanced form of homesickness. The prescribed therapy was normally participation in an intense offensive campaign, to take their minds off their troubles. Ironically, of course, intense combat probably caused the symptoms in the first place.

Treatment has advanced considerably since then. Doctors now know that PTSD is a physical brain injury. So, the Canadian Armed Forces recently eliminated the PTSD label, which has some baggage and is misleading, and replaced it with Operational Stress Injury. Soldiers with combat-related OSI are entitled to the Sacrifice Medal, which is the Canadian equivalent of a Purple Heart.

Current Diagnosis

The Social Security Administration. If a condition is listed in the Blue Book, it could be disabling, according to the SSA. PTSD is usually a Blue Book condition. It normally falls under the Trauma- and stressor-related disorders category.

However, a current diagnosis alone is insufficient. To get to the next step, the claimant must meet some additional qualifications. These additional qualifications are a bit complex, so strap yourselves in.

Initially, all PTSD disability claimants must have medical or other documentation which establishes all the following symptoms:

  • Hypervigilance,
  • Risk of serious injury, violence, or death (usually suicidal thoughts),
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, or other “involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event,”
  • Avoidance, and
  • Moodiness.

Additionally, claimants must show “marked limitation” in at least two of the following cognitive areas: self-management, social skills, concentration ability, and/or thought processing. Alternatively, the claimant must show at least a two-year history of “serious and persistent” symptoms.

We are not quite finished with this section yet. All SSD applicants must prove that their disabilities will last at least a year or are terminal. Since brain injuries like PTSD are permanent, these things are usually not difficult to prove. However, in some cases, PTSD comes and goes.


These things only prove that the claimant has a qualifying condition. Mild PTSD does not qualify, even if its effects are disabling.

By the book, a “disability” is an illness or injury which prevents a person from working. So, the term is relative. A back problem which makes it impossible to sit for long periods of time might be disabling for a truck driver. But it is probably not disabling for other workers who do not have to sit as long. The SSA has a five-part test, which is applicable in most cases:

  • Current Employment: If the applicant is currently working and earning more than $1,310 a month (about $8 an hour), the applicant is not disabled. End of story. This calculation could be more complex in some cases. For example, many PTSD victims can only work on good days.
  • Severe Condition: We talked about the symptoms of qualifying PTSD above. This inquiry involves the effect of these symptoms. According to the SSA, the disability symptoms must “significantly limit your ability to do basic work-related activities, such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or remembering.”
  • Listed Condition: As outlined above, PTSD might or might not qualify as a trauma or stress-related disorder. If claimant’s condition does not qualify, for whatever reason, the claimant must also show that s/he cannot do the work s/he previously did and cannot hold down any other type of job which qualifies as substantial gainful employment.

Basically, SGE is the ability to earn enough to live above the poverty line. The earnings must also be sufficient to lift any dependents out of poverty.

Medical evidence supports the medical component of a PTSD SSD claim. This medical evidence usually includes psychiatric history, psychological history, and medical examination results. Test results do not do much good in PTSD cases. This type of brain injury is usually invisible to MRIs and other such tests.

Non-medical evidence includes a vocational expert’s report and, perhaps more importantly, statements from friends, family, and co-workers about how PTSD symptoms affect the veteran’s daily life. Usually, the brain disguises its own injuries. Therefore, many PTSD victims do not fully know how this condition affects them.

Medication Issues

Finally, applicants must be unresponsive to PTSD medication and/or physical therapy. This requirement is difficult, but not impossible, for a claimant to meet.

Various PTSD medications are available. Basically, exposure to extreme stress, such as combat stress or MST (Military Sexual Trauma) triggers a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance causes the aforementioned effects. Some medications, including MDMA (Molly), cure this chemical imbalance in some people.

However, these medications are very strong and have powerful side effects. Not everyone can tolerate the dosage required for effective treatment.

Brain injury physical therapists can train uninjured areas of the brain to assume lost functions. Other PTSD victims benefit from group therapy, art therapy, and other offerings. Not all these services are available in all locations, and not everyone responds to them in the same way.

For more information about DBA benefits for PTSD, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.