Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in people after they witness or experience a traumatic life incident or event such as a natural disaster, sexual assault, combat situations, or a tragic accident.

PTSDFor some people, symptoms of PTSD occur soon after the event. For others, symptoms may occur months or even years later. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, nearly 8 percent of Americans will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD is fairly common in military personnel. During combat, veterans may be sent on missions that expose them to extreme, life-threatening events.

When a veteran experiences a traumatic event during her military service, she may exhibit some common stress reactions, including:

  • Shock and terror
  • Anger and irritability
  • Feelings of helplessness and unhappiness
  • Inability to concentrate and make decisions
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Inability to sleep
  • Decreased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of alienation

These symptoms fall into four general categories. However, veterans may not experience them in the same way. These categories are: 

  1. Re-experiencing the event. It’s possible that a veteran will have nightmares about an incident or flashbacks. Both can cause her to feel that she’s going through the incident all over again.
  2. Avoiding similar situations. Veterans suffering from PTSD may try to avoid people or situations that bring back memories of the trauma. Avoiding “triggers” that cause the veterans to relive or think about the moment is common.
  3. Experiencing change in feelings and beliefs. After a traumatic military event, veterans may change the way they feel about themselves and others. It’s common for veterans to feel guilty for the incident, or they may become uninterested in the life and activities they once enjoyed. They may also believe that people aren't to be trusted, and the world has become a dangerous place.
  4. Feeling on edge. Veterans may feel constantly keyed up—also referred to as hyperarousal. They may be agitated, jittery, angry, or irritable; behave recklessly; or take up unhealthy habits such as smoking or using drugs and alcohol.

Service-Connecting PTSD

In 2010, the VA changed its eligibility requirements for veterans to receive disability benefits for PTSD. No longer do veterans have to provide proof of the event that caused their PTSD. This new rule is for combat soldiers as well as for any veterans who suffered fear of a hostile environment or terrorist activity.

To establish a service-connection to PTSD, a veteran must:

  • Have a current diagnosis of PTSD.
  • Provide a written statement about the traumatic event (the stressor) that occurred during her military service.
  • Have a written medical opinion from a VA psychologist or psychiatrist, or one who is contracted by the VA, explaining that he believes the stressor was significant enough to cause PTSD.

If you had PTSD prior to your military service, the VA won’t provide you with benefits as a service-connected condition. However, it’s possible you may be eligible if you can establish an “aggravated service connection.” To do this, you need to show your combat duty made your PTSD worse. Thus, it’s critical that your PTSD is noted in your entrance medical exam, or you’ll need to have solid medical evidence that shows you were diagnosed with and were being treated for PTSD before starting your military career.

Call Cuddigan Law

If you believe you have service-connected PTSD, it’s beneficial to contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help file your claim. Our attorneys are committed to helping veterans, and we'll examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.


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