How Does a Doctor Diagnose PTSD?

Many veterans returning home from military service experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These men and women have witnessed or been involved in life-altering, traumatic events that created serious physical and emotional challenges. PTSD is a recognized medical condition, and veterans have higher risks of developing PTSD than individuals who don’t serve in the military.

When doctors diagnose PTSD, they perform:

  • A physical exam to make certain medical problems aren't causing the symptoms.
  • A psychological evaluation that involves discussing all of the signs and symptoms experienced up to and after the event. For this determination, the doctor uses criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

What Are the DSM-5 Requirements?

How PTSD is diagnosedPTSD is now included as a new category in the DSM-5: Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. Every condition requires a veteran be exposed to a traumatic or stressful event. Here's a short summary of the criteria used for diagnosing PTSD:

Requirement 1: Stressor (must have one)

A veteran must have experienced death, a death threat, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:

  • He had direct exposure to the event
  • He witnessed the traumatic event
  • He learned that a close friend or a relative was exposed to the traumatic event
  • He had indirect exposure to graphic details about the traumatic event—for example, EMT workers and first responders

Requirement 2: Intrusion Symptoms (must have one)

The veteran must consistently re-experience the traumatic event in one or more of the following ways:

  • He has nightmares
  • He has flashbacks
  • He has difficult, upsetting, unwanted memories
  • He feels emotional distress after experiencing reminders of the traumatic event
  • He has “physical reactivity” after experiencing reminders of the traumatic event

Requirement 3: Avoidance (must have one)

The veteran must show behaviors that avoid “trauma-related stimuli” by:

  • Avoiding trauma-related thoughts and/or feelings
  • Avoiding trauma-related external reminders such as activities, social events, environments, and people who might bring about memories of the event

Requirement 4: Negative Alterations in Cognition and Mood (must have two)

The veteran’s negative feelings and thoughts worsened after the traumatic event by:

  • Inability to remember important features of the incident
  • Excessively negative assumptions and thoughts about self and the world
  • Excessive blame of others or self for causing the traumatic event
  • Decreased interest in day-to-day activities or pursuits once enjoyed
  • Increased feelings of isolation
  • Inability to experience a positive outlook

There are additional criteria that include irritability, aggression, destructive behavior, hyper-vigilance, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping. If symptoms last for more than a month, create functional impairment or distress, and aren’t due to medication use, substance abuse, or other illnesses, your doctor may diagnose you with PTSD.

Cuddigan Law Can Help With Your PTSD Claim

The experienced legal team at Cuddigan Law recognizes and respects the sacrifices veterans have made to protect this country. If you’re a veteran suffering from PTSD, we can help you obtain the disability benefits you need to care for yourself and your loved ones. It’s possible that you qualify for financial assistance from the VA.

If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for disability benefits, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.

 

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska