Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be considered a disability in some cases. If symptoms meet specific criteria and interfere with daily life, a person may be able to claim disability benefits.
PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event or series of events. The symptoms of PTSD can affect a person’s mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being.
In certain cases, PTSD symptoms may be severe enough to be considered a disability.
This article discusses when PTSD may be a disability. It also explains how the Americans with Disabilities Act views PTSD and when Veterans Affairs considers PTSD a disability.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers PTSD a disability in some cases. If PTSD meets certain criteria in the SSA’s Blue Book, a person may be able to file a claim for disability benefits.
The Blue Book is a list of conditions the SSA considers disabilities that may qualify for disability benefits. According to the Blue Book, PTSD may be considered a disability if it meets the following criteria:
- Medical documentation of the following:
- exposure to death or threatened death, serious injury, or violence
- involuntary reexperiencing the trauma following the experience, such as flashbacks, intrusive memories, or dreams
- avoidance of external reminders of the traumatic event
- disturbances in mood or behavior
- increase in arousal and reactivity, such as sleep disturbances or an exaggerated startle response
The above criteria must be combined with the following symptoms:
- An extreme or marked limitation of at least two of these areas of mental functioning:
- understanding, applying, and remembering information
- interacting with others
- concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace
- adapting or managing oneself
- Or, the condition is serious and persistent, the person has medical documentation of the existence of the condition over 2 years, and there is evidence of the following:
- ongoing medical treatment, psychotherapy, psychosocial support, or a highly structured setting that helps reduce the symptoms of the condition
- the person has minimal capacity to adapt to changes in their environment or demands that are a part of daily life
A person with PTSD must also meet the work requirements laid out by the SSA to claim disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and similar benefits are outlined as being for people who once could work but can no longer do so.
People who believe they may qualify for SSA and SSDI benefits due to PTSD can apply for benefits through the SSA website.
If a person cannot apply online, they can find their local Social Security office, where someone can assist them in filing for benefits.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits people from being discriminated against due to disabilities. It helps to guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as people without disabilities.
The ADA describes a person with a disability as someone who:
- has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits at least one major life activity, such as eating, sleeping, walking, or communicating
- has a history of or record of the impairment, such as cancer that is in remission
- is perceived by others as having an impairment, such as having scars from a severe burn
If a person meets any of the above criteria, the ADA automatically covers them. The ADA covers many disabilities, including PTSD.
The ADA protects people against discrimination due to disability in many areas of life, including:
- state and local government services
- public transit
- businesses open to the public
To learn more about the ADA and how to file a complaint, people can visit the ADA website.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be able to provide disability benefits for veterans with PTSD.
The VA may provide disability benefits if a person has PTSD and meets the following criteria:
- the stressor, event, or trauma occurred during their time of service
- the individual cannot function as well as they once could due to PTSD symptoms
- a doctor has diagnosed PTSD
The disability benefits the VA offers include:
- compensation or payments
- treatment for PTSD
For a veteran to receive VA disability benefits for PTSD, they need to file a disability claim.
Not everyone who experiences PTSD needs treatment. For some people, the symptoms of PTSD fade over time. However, if symptoms do not fade, a person may consider seeking treatment from a mental health professional.
Some disability benefits may require treatment for an individual to receive them.
Treatment for PTSD may vary from person to person. Some common treatments include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), including:
- cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
- prolonged exposure therapy
- trauma-focused CBT
- eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD
- group therapy
- medication, including antidepressants, or to help with anxiety and sleep disturbances
- complementary and alternative therapies, including:
- animal-assisted therapy
The following are some questions people frequently ask about PTSD.
At what point is PTSD a disability?
PTSD is considered a disability when:
- a doctor diagnoses it
- the symptoms cause limitations, such as understanding information, interacting with others, and concentrating
Can someone with PTSD live a normal life?
Yes. With effective treatment and support, many people with PTSD can live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Both the SSA and VA consider PTSD a disability in some cases. If PTSD meets certain criteria, such as being diagnosed by a doctor and impairing or limiting areas of life, it may qualify a person for disability benefits.
PTSD is also covered under the ADA. This means it is considered a disability, and people cannot be discriminated against due to the condition.
If a person has PTSD and it is interfering with their day-to-day life, they can contact the SSA to file a claim for disability benefits. If they are a veteran of the armed forces, they can also contact the VA about disability benefits.