The life-altering, traumatic event experienced by veterans who later develop PTSD is also called a “stressor.” To qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), you need to show the specific ways the stressor changed your life. Because the VA rates PTSD using two classifications—PTSD Combat and PTSD Non-Combat—it’s important to understand how to best describe and explain your stressor.

Understanding Stressors

Understanding contributing stressors for PTSDIn general, the VA states that a stressor “involves exposure to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence.” This can be witnessing the exposure directly or in person, or indirectly by learning about the accident or violent death of a friend or relative or learning that either party was exposed to trauma. 

Combat Stressors

Combat stressors occur from a variety of traumatic incidents. It isn’t necessary for a veteran to be injured by a stressor to qualify for PTSD VA benefits. If someone else was injured or killed, it’s possible for that to be your stressor. Here are some examples of possible combat PTSD stressors for veterans:

  • Ambushed by the enemy
  • Watched other service members die by an IED
  • Witnessed a flight deck plane crash
  • Experienced or witnessed a hostile attack

To prove a combat stressor when applying for VA disability, an individual must show the following:

  • “Satisfactory lay or other evidence that an injury or disease was incurred or aggravated in combat will be accepted as sufficient proof of service connection if the evidence is consistent with the circumstances, conditions or hardships of such service even though there is no official record of such incurrence or aggravation.”
  • “He personally participated in events constituting an actual fight or encounter with a military foe or hostile unit or instrumentality.”

Non-Combat Stressors

Non-combat stressors can occur while military personnel are on active duty but not during actual combat. If you can service-connect the incident that caused your PTSD, even if it wasn’t combat related, you may still qualify for VA disability benefits. Here are some examples of non-combat stressors:

  • Being involved in a serious car accident while on duty
  • Being hurt or injured or seeing someone else hurt or injured during training exercises
  • Being the victim of or witnessing a rape
  • Witnessing or learning of a service member’s suicide
  • Learning of a plane crash

The Importance of Evidence

It’s important to have corroborating evidence about your stressor—meaning, your evidence needs to be very credible. The VA will look at a variety of sources to verify the stressor occurred and use Primary and Secondary Evidence to determine your eligibility for benefits.

Primary Evidence

Primary evidence about your stressor can include:

  • Service pay and personnel records
  • Records for hazard pay
  • Reports on your military performance
  • Daily staff journals
  • Pay for Combat/Imminent Danger/Hostile Fire

Secondary Evidence

The VA will look at secondary evidence about your stressor, including:

  • Buddy statements/letters
  • A veteran’s journal or letters sent to others
  • Articles in the newspaper

Cuddigan Law and Your PTSD Claim

The experienced veterans disability lawyers at Cuddigan Law recognizes and respects the sacrifices veterans made to protect this country. They understand that PTSD can occur whether a veteran experienced a combat stressor or a non-combat stressor. 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.

If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for disability benefits, contact Cuddigan Law. Our veterans disability lawyers 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