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VA PTSD Claim Process: A Comprehensive Guide

July 12, 2023

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop due to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Military service members are particularly susceptible to developing PTSD due to the potentially intense and stressful events they may encounter during their service. Symptoms of PTSD may include intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, feeling on edge, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and changes in mood and behavior. 

It is important for service members to understand that they may be eligible for disability benefits if they have been diagnosed with PTSD and it is found to be related to their military service. This article will guide veterans through the process of filing a PTSD disability claim, including the necessary evidence and documentation, as well as the rating criteria used to determine the severity of symptoms and the corresponding disability compensation.

Overview of VA Claims Process for PTSD

The VA claims process for individuals seeking disability benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves several steps. Understanding the overview of this process is crucial for veterans to navigate the system effectively and ensure a successful claim.

The first step in the VA claims process is claim submission. Veterans must submit a formal claim to the VA, providing the necessary documentation and evidence to support their PTSD claim. This documentation typically includes medical records, military service records, and any additional evidence related to traumatic events or mental health conditions.

Once the claim is submitted, it enters the processing stage. During this stage, the VA reviews the claim and the supporting documentation provided. The VA may also request additional evidence or medical opinions to evaluate the claim further.

Types of PTSD Claims

There are various types of PTSD claims that veterans can file with the VA. The most common type is a service-connected PTSD claim, where veterans seek disability benefits for PTSD related to their military service. To establish service connection, veterans must provide evidence that their PTSD was caused or aggravated by a traumatic event or events during their military service. 

Another type of PTSD claim is a secondary service-connected claim, where veterans seek disability benefits for PTSD caused or worsened by a service-connected condition. Additionally, veterans can file for non-service-connected PTSD claims, which are claims for disability benefits for PTSD unrelated to their military service. These claims are typically filed by veterans who experienced a traumatic event after leaving the military, such as sexual trauma or terrorist activity. 

Regardless of the type of claim, veterans must provide medical evidence and documentation to support their claim and establish the severity of their PTSD symptoms.

Combat-Related PTSD Claims

Filing combat-related PTSD claims can be a complex process, but understanding the steps involved can help veterans navigate the system more effectively.

For initial combat PTSD claims, the first requirement is establishing a service connection, which means proving that the condition is related to military service. This often involves verifying the traumatic event or "stressor" that caused the PTSD. Veterans may need evidence such as military records, buddy statements, or other sources to support their claims. Additional development may be needed to obtain the necessary documentation.

For veterans who are already service-connected for PTSD and seeking an increase in their rating, they can file review claims. These claims involve providing evidence of the severity of their symptoms and how they affect daily life. Medical records, personal statements, and opinions from healthcare providers can be essential in supporting these claims.

Non-Combat-Related PTSD Claims

Non-combat-related PTSD claims are another category for veterans seeking disability benefits due to post-traumatic stress disorder. These claims focus on traumatic events or stressors that are not directly related to combat experiences.

One type of non-combat-related PTSD claim is for personal injury or assault. This could involve physical assaults, accidents, or injuries during military service. Veterans filing these claims must provide evidence of the traumatic incident and its connection to their PTSD symptoms.

Another non-combat-related PTSD claim is related to Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Veterans who have experienced sexual assault or harassment while serving in the military can file MST claims for PTSD. These claims require evidence such as medical records, reports, or statements from witnesses to support the connection between the MST and the development of PTSD.

Secondary Service Connection for PTSD

Secondary Service Connection for PTSD is a process through which a veteran can establish a link between their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and another service-connected condition or event. This connection is crucial to obtain disability benefits for PTSD, as it demonstrates that PTSD results from the primary service-connected condition or event.

To establish a secondary service connection, the veteran needs to provide linking evidence that shows a clear connection between the primary condition or event and the development or aggravation of their PTSD. This can be done through medical records, reports, or statements from healthcare providers that support the claim.

One way to establish a secondary service connection is by demonstrating that the primary service-connected condition aggravated or caused the development of PTSD. For example, if a veteran has a service-connected physical condition that causes chronic pain or disability, the stress and anxiety resulting from this condition may have led to PTSD.

Gathering Evidence for a VA Claim

When filing a claim with the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), gathering the necessary evidence is crucial to support your case. By providing strong and relevant evidence, you can increase your chances of success in obtaining the disability benefits you deserve. This evidence typically consists of medical records, reports, statements from healthcare providers, and nexus evidence that establishes a clear connection between your primary condition or event and the development or aggravation of your PTSD. 

It is important to gather all pertinent medical evidence and obtain a strong nexus opinion from a medical professional to strengthen your claim for disability compensation. With the right evidence, you can confidently navigate the VA claims process and present a compelling case for service connection and disability benefits.

Military Records Needed for Claiming PTSD

When filing a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to military service, it is crucial to gather the necessary military records to support your case. These records should highlight any combat trauma experienced during service or any specific incidents that may have contributed to your current state of mind.

Some of the military records you should include are service medical records, which document any injuries or illnesses sustained during your time in the military. If you were involved in combat situations or were exposed to traumatic events, it is essential to obtain after-action reports, unit journals, or any other documents that confirm your involvement.

Additionally, obtaining records of any incidents, such as accidents or assaults, that may have contributed to your PTSD is crucial. This includes records from military police, investigations, or any medical consultations related to the incident.

These military records are important evidence to establish a service connection and the severity of your PTSD symptoms. They provide concrete documentation of the traumatic events you experienced during your military service, which is vital for a successful disability claim.

Medical Records Needed for Claiming PTSD

When claiming PTSD with the VA, it is important to gather the necessary medical records to support your case. The VA requires evidence of a current diagnosis of PTSD, along with medical records that show the frequency, duration, and severity of your symptoms. These records play a crucial role in establishing the impact of your condition on your daily life.

To build a strong case, include medical records from private physicians who have diagnosed and treated your PTSD. These records should outline the symptoms you experience, the treatment you have received, and the condition's impact on your overall well-being.

In addition to private physician records, it is essential to include any medical records from VA doctors who have evaluated and treated you for PTSD. These records can further document your condition and its effects on your life.

When compiling your medical records, do not forget to include any in-service treatment records, which may contain information about PTSD symptoms you experienced during your military service. Finally, lay evidence or buddy statements from family members, friends, or spouses who have observed your symptoms and their impact on your daily life can offer additional insight and support your claim.

By gathering these medical records, you can provide the necessary evidence to support your claim for PTSD and increase your chances of receiving the disability benefits you deserve.

Buddy Statements Needed for Claiming PTSD

Buddy statements play a vital role when it comes to claiming PTSD-related benefits. These statements provide additional evidence and support for the veteran's case, helping to strengthen their claim.

When writing a buddy statement, it's essential to include detailed firsthand accounts of the traumatic event that the veteran experienced during their military service. This should include information about the specific circumstances surrounding the event and how it has affected their mental health. By including these specific details, it helps to establish the connection between the traumatic event and the veteran's current mental health conditions.

Additional Evidence Needed to Support a Claim of PTSD

When pursuing a claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it is vital to gather sufficient evidence to support your case. While buddy statements are important, there are additional types of evidence that can strengthen your claim.

Medical evidence plays a crucial role in establishing a connection between your current PTSD diagnosis and the stressful event(s) experienced during your military service. A qualified doctor's opinion can provide valuable insight into the impact of the in-service stressor on your mental health. This opinion is a nexus, linking your current diagnosis to the traumatic event and bolstering your claim.

In addition to medical evidence, records from a Vet Center can be valuable supporting documentation. Vet Centers often provide counseling and support services for combat trauma and other military-related stressors. These records can provide further evidence of the impact of your military service on your mental health.

Establishing the Severity of Symptoms and Eligibility

When filing a disability claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is important to establish the severity of your symptoms. The severity of symptoms is crucial in determining the disability rating and the level of disability benefits you may be eligible to receive. To establish the severity of your symptoms, medical evidence is key. 

This can include records of psychiatric evaluations, therapy sessions, and medication prescriptions. It may also be beneficial to provide evidence of any social impairments or disturbances in your daily life caused by your PTSD symptoms. Overall, gathering comprehensive medical evidence that accurately reflects the severity of your symptoms is crucial in the claims process.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for disability compensation for PTSD, you must meet certain criteria set forth by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). One of the primary requirements is establishing a service connection, meaning that your PTSD must be directly linked to a traumatic event or stressor experienced during your military service. Additionally, you must have a current diagnosis of PTSD from a qualified healthcare provider. 

Providing these medical records is essential in supporting your claim. Other eligibility requirements include demonstrating that your PTSD symptoms significantly impair your ability to function in your daily life and providing evidence of at least a 10% rating on the VA's disability rating scale. By meeting these eligibility requirements and presenting compelling medical evidence, you can increase your chances of a successful PTSD disability claim.

Diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) requires meeting specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). According to the DSM-5, the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD include exposure to a traumatic event, re-experiencing of the event through distressing memories or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, negative alterations in mood and cognition, and hyperarousal symptoms.

When seeking a diagnosis, individuals typically engage with mental health care practitioners such as psychiatrists, psychologists, or licensed therapists. These professionals play a vital role in evaluating symptoms, assessing the impact on daily functioning, and determining if the criteria for PTSD are met. It is crucial for mental health practitioners to provide a thorough report that supports the diagnosis.

Diagnosing PTSD involves meeting specific criteria outlined in the DSM-5. Mental health care practitioners play a crucial role in evaluating symptoms and supporting the diagnosis through a thorough report, which is essential in the disability claims process.

Appealing an Adverse Decision on a VA Claim or an Inadequate Benefits Award

When a veteran receives an adverse decision on a VA claim or an inadequate benefits award, they have the right to appeal it. The appeals process provides veterans with the opportunity to present additional evidence or challenge the decision made by the VA. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to initiate an appeal:

1. Review the decision: Carefully read through the decision letter to understand the reasons for the denial or inadequate benefits award.

2. Determine the appeal option: Veterans have three options for appealing a decision. They can submit new evidence, request a higher-level review, or appeal directly to the Board of Veterans' Appeals.

3. Submitting new evidence: If you believe you have additional evidence that could support your claims, such as new medical records or expert opinions, you can submit them to the VA. Use VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, to explain the new evidence clearly.

4. Request a higher-level review: A higher-level review involves a more senior reviewer reevaluating the claim using the same evidence. To request a higher-level review, complete VA Form 20-0996, Higher-Level Review.

5. Appeal to the Board of Veterans' Appeals: If you disagree with the decision or outcome of a higher-level review, you can appeal directly to the Board of Veterans' Appeals. Complete VA Form 10182, Notice of Disagreement, and submit it to the Board.

6. Respect deadlines: It is crucial to adhere to the deadlines for initiating an appeal. Failure to do so may result in your appeal being dismissed. The deadlines vary depending on the type of appeal chosen.

By following these steps and understanding the options available, veterans can take action to appeal an adverse decision on their VA claim or an inadequate benefits award.

Resources Available To Assist Veterans With Their VA Claims Process

Several resources are available to assist veterans with their VA claims process, providing guidance and support throughout the journey.

1. Veterans' Organizations: Numerous veterans' organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), offers free assistance in helping veterans navigate the claims process. These organizations have trained service officers who can provide advice, help gather necessary documentation, and advocate on behalf of veterans.

2. VA Programs: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) itself provides various programs to assist veterans with their claims. This includes the VA's Compensation and Pension Service, which offers information, forms, and resources to guide veterans through the claims process. The VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program can also provide assistance to veterans with service-connected disabilities in preparing and filing claims.

3. Legal Assistance: Veterans may also seek legal guidance from organizations such as the Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which offers free legal representation for veterans appealing their claims. Additionally, the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program provides pro bono legal services to veterans with pending appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

4. Claim Support: The VA offers free, confidential peer support through the Veterans Crisis Line. Veterans can call, text, or chat online with trained professionals or with other veterans who have been through the claims process. This support can provide valuable insights and advice to veterans as they navigate their claims.

These resources are valuable assets for veterans, ensuring they have the guidance and assistance to effectively maneuver through the VA claims process.


Navigating the VA PTSD claim process requires a comprehensive understanding of the requirements and procedures involved. By equipping yourself with knowledge and guidance, you can increase your chances of a successful claim and obtain the support you deserve. Remember that this journey may be complex, but with patience, perseverance, and the right resources, you can navigate the process effectively.

If you or a loved one is going through the VA PTSD claim process, seek assistance from reputable organizations and professionals specializing in veterans' benefits. Contact veterans service organizations, legal aid clinics, or accredited representatives who can provide guidance and support. Additionally, stay informed about updates and changes in the VA system to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and resources are available to help you navigate the process and receive the support you deserve.

Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
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