Is PTSD a Disability

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is PTSD a disability

A car flew past you and smashed into a tree. You were only a few feet away. The glass sprinkled on the pavement close enough to your shoes that you had to walk across it to getaway.

Now, just thinking about getting into a car can make sweat break out on your forehead. You can actually hear the metal collapsing and that glass exploding. No matter how hard you try to stop it, your eyes fill with tears and you start crying.

And all you want to do is drive to work. All you want to do is have a normal day.

Dealing With the Stresses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Some people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so powerful it can change their lives for a period of time. It can affect how they sleep, how they eat, and how or if they can go to work. And because around eight million people within the United States will experience some level of PTSD, it’s clearly important to understand how it can be dealt with in various ways.

PTSD already comes with a lot of difficult and confusing thoughts and emotions. When you add in whether or not PTSD is classified as a disability things get more complicated and, possibly, more stressful.

This is strictly regarding PTSD’s classification as a disability within the context of employment. The larger discussion around disabilities and the language for defining how someone feels is a different discussion for another time.

Remember, struggling with PTSD is something that can happen to anyone. Dealing with it is not as easy as “getting over it” or just focusing on something else, although yes, some people do heal with nothing but time. Everyone is different and your struggles are unique to you.

The answer to whether PTSD is considered a disability within the realm of employment is, of course, not a simple yes or no. There are factors to be taken into account that can change the outcome.

Let’s take a look at when and how PTSD is classified as a disability and who can get benefits for PTSD treatment.

PTSD Disability Benefits for Veterans

It’s common for military veterans to develop PTSD from combat or trauma related to combat. Because of this, people who developed PTSD in the military are often searching for answers about the United States classifying PTSD as a disability.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a lot of information on qualifying for PTSD-related disability benefits.

Most importantly, in order to qualify for benefits specifically from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) you must be a veteran. This means you served some time in a branch of the United States military.

Secondly, a traumatic event/experience must have occurred while you were serving within the military. If the traumatic event happened after you were no longer on active duty you would apply for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) rather than the VA.

A doctor will need to give an official diagnosis of PTSD. It can be a tricky diagnosis because it can occasionally show up weeks, even months after you’ve encountered trauma. If you experienced or witnessed trauma and then notice a rapid shift in your sleeping or the sudden onset of anxiety, it may be PTSD

Next, the trauma affects you dramatically and you are no longer capable of functioning like you did previously. This can mean you’re dealing with panic attacks daily that make it difficult to do things like drive safely, or that you have flashbacks triggered by certain sounds that stop you from working at your job effectively.

What the VA Considers Trauma

In the realm of Veterans Affairs, where the trauma needs to have occurred while you are on active duty in a branch of the military, what does the VA consider traumatic?

They specify that becoming seriously injured, experiencing a “personal or sexual trauma” or sexual violation are all traumas that can lead to PTSD. Along with experiencing these things, simply being threatened by them can be enough as well.

Specifically, the VA lists being threatened by “injury, sexual assault, or death,” which can seem a little vague, so what does that mean exactly? It could mean someone has verbally threatened you or it could mean you witnessed something that made you feel as though your life were in danger.

The VA has a site to help veterans apply for disability, which could include regular payments (determined based on the severity of PTSD symptoms and other factors), medical treatment for PTSD, and other generalized healthcare.

How Likely Is PTSD for Veterans?

The likelihood of a veteran being diagnosed with PTSD is difficult to pin down, but studies do show the severity of PTSD is at least higher for veterans than it is for non-veterans.

One study by Miriam Reisman states the percentage of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from PTSD can range anywhere from 13.5% to 30%, depending on where the statistics are gathered.

Similarly, another study found at least half a million veterans of those wars were diagnosed with PTSD. Combat veterans are naturally in situations that are more likely to produce trauma than non-veterans, but that still doesn’t give us an accurate likelihood of developing PTSD.

It’s too difficult to say due to how differently each person reacts to trauma. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, however, 37% of people diagnosed with PTSD are said to have severe symptoms, and women are specifically more likely to be affected than men.

Is PTSD a Disability for Non-Veterans?

Again, please remember this is all specifically about disability compensation for PTSD, not whether PTSD is considered bad enough to render you incapable of working and/or operating in your daily life.

It’s been well-documented PTSD can be severe enough to alter someone’s day-to-day existence. You are not a failure, or weak, or in any way broken because you are struggling with PTSD.

As for whether non-veterans are able to get disability compensation for PTSD, like so many things in life, the answer is not straightforward. Non-veterans can in fact qualify for disability compensation due to PTSD, but there are, of course, requirements that have to be met.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a book called Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, but is commonly called “The Blue Book.” You can search the book online and can read the specifics about trauma-related disorders here.

There are quite a few possibilities taken into account from the SSA when considering disability compensation for non-veterans suffering from PTSD. Reading the entire Blue Book is not always a possibility, which means understanding how your benefits may be paid out can take time.

All of the different requirements can be hard to keep track of, but here is a guide to help you. Disability Benefits Help, a service to aid those in need of finding disability information and understanding the application process, lists the SSA’s requirements.

First, they say, “Your medical records must document at least one of the following findings,” and present a comprehensive list. Remember that! Your medical records must show at least one, so all the “and/or” means is not everyone’s symptoms will be the same and some people may have multiple symptoms from the list.

The list is:

“You must recall a traumatic experience; and/or you must have recurring obsessions or compulsions; and/or you must exhibit an irrational fear of a situation, object, or activity that is persistent enough that it causes a compulsion in you to avoid the situation, object, or activity.”

It might seem like qualifying for PTSD disability compensation is not easy or quick. Don’t let that stop you from beginning the process.

The list continues with: “And/or you must have severe panic attacks, with symptoms of fear, intense apprehension, and feelings of impending doom and terror, on an average of at least once a week.”

The last portion is long and contains a lot of different symptoms. They are: “And/or you must experience generalized persistent anxiety accompanied by at least three of the following symptoms: autonomic hyperactivity (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, cold hands, and dizziness), apprehensive expectation (anxiety, fear, worry, and persistent thoughts of potential misfortune), motor tension (fatigability, trembling, restlessness, and muscle tension), or vigilance and scanning behavior (feeling keyed up, increased startling, and impaired concentration).”

Again, only one of all those things listed is required, but it is also required alongside one of the following two options as well.

First, “Your medical records must show at least two of the following findings:

    1. You are markedly restricted in your normal daily activities, and/or
    2. You have marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning, and/or
    3. You have marked difficulty in maintaining your concentration, persistence, or pace, and/or
    4. You have repeated episodes of decompensation (worsening psychiatric symptoms), that are of extended duration.”

Or second, “Your medical records must prove that your PTSD results in your complete inability to function on your own outside your house.”

So, to keep track, that’s any of the first long list of symptoms, plus one from either of the last two options.

It’s undoubtedly complex. The good news is people can help you figure it out, so never be afraid to ask for help or clarification on something. And just so we don’t leave anyone confused, let’s briefly talk about PTSD in general.

What Exactly Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and What Are the Symptoms?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something that can develop in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. This can include witnessing the event but not being directly involved.

The exact reasons for why PTSD develops are still being researched, but there are a few leading theories on why our bodies react this way.

One is what’s called “fight or flight,” which is a name for our body’s natural defense mechanism. When something dangerous and traumatic happens a part of our brain focuses on either staying “fighting,” which can sometimes just mean helping out or very literally mean fighting.

“Flight,” in this case, means escaping the danger. The theory is that our bodies receive a drastic shock to the system from trauma and that can lead to a kind of overloading our “fight or flight” system. PTSD may be the result of our bodies not being able to tell the difference between safe and unsafe, and relying on “fight or flight” in situations where they don’t need to worry.

Another theory is that the brain is actually changed in small ways when reacting to trauma that can lead to PTSD. Our brains use a section called the hippocampus to regulate our emotions and memory, and scans have shown its size altered in those who’ve experienced trauma.

This theory is focused on the hippocampus malfunctioning due to its decrease in size, which means your brain and body don’t deal with flashbacks, dreams, and troubling thoughts like they should. One prevalent characteristic is PTSD nightmares.

It’s usually not a permanent change, though, and with time and treatment people generally return to their pre-PTSD lives. How exactly do you treat PTSD, though? How can you help someone get past a fear they can’t seem to control?

Getting Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Some people with PTSD heal over time, but others need to seek treatment. It might seem impossible to know which needs to meet for each person, considering how PTSD can affect us is so unique to the individual.

SUN Behavioral specializes in meeting those needs. For PTSD specifically, one of the main evidence-based treatments SUN uses is key in helping people not only understand their PTSD but heal from it and move forward.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy focused on redefining and utilizing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to produce positive results. There has been a significant amount of research into it, with positive outcomes.

It may seem contradictory, but CBT helps you to focus on the present rather than the past. PTSD is always rooted in the past, because it is “post-traumatic,” meaning after the trauma has taken place.

What CBT does is allow you to examine your thoughts and emotions and see how they relate to your behaviors. When you begin to change your thought patterns and your behaviors, you end up molding your life and experiences by understanding why certain thoughts and emotions occur.

Reach Out To SUN Behavioral

The truth is, PTSD can make even the slightest decision harder to make. We want you to know we’re here, ready to help you decide, and ready to answer any questions you may have. You can contact us any day at any time. Give us a call at (859) 429-5188.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is PTSD Classed as a Disability?

When it comes to employment, PTSD can be classified as a disability. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration though, so the answer isn’t simple. For instance, if someone is a veteran (has served time in the U.S. military) their classification and disability compensation would be handled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A person who is not a veteran would apply for disability compensation through the office of Social Security.

Is Chronic PTSD a Disability?

It can be, yes. Chronic PTSD, which means it occurs for a significant length of time, would be subject to all the same factors as short-term PTSD. Both the VA and the Social Security Administration need specific information about a person in order to determine if they qualify for disability compensation. Some of that info includes a doctor documenting your exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence; avoiding any situation that would remind you of the event; your inability to overcome constant fear (including being easily startled), and much more. The Social Security Administration uses a book to document their requirements for disability compensation; you can read about the trauma-related classifications here.

Can PTSD Stop You From Working?

It can, yes. Side effects of PTSD can include depression, severe anxiety, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and flashbacks, among others. All of these have the possibility of being severe enough that a person’s daily routine is interrupted. PTSD is something that can affect anyone because stress is the uniting factor. Some people may experience no, or only mild symptoms while others will suffer from drastic side effects. It’s also important to remember the effects of PTSD can begin showing within hours of witnessing/experiencing a traumatic event or develop months afterward. There is really no “standard” experience when it comes to PTSD because the side effects and treatment/healing are all influenced by personal experience and, to some extent, individual biology.