Witnessing the death of a fellow service member, being harassed by a superior, or suffering from a training accident are just a few examples of traumatic events veterans like you may have experienced during service. These non-combat PTSD stressors, meaning stressful or traumatic events that occur outside of combat, can have a big impact on mental health and may lead to PTSD.
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Regardless of when symptoms begin or whether you saw combat, veterans with PTSD that develops from any service-connected stressor are entitled to VA benefits. This article describes what non-combat PTSD stressors are and how to submit a well-developed VA disability claim for non-combat PTSD.
In this article about non-combat PTSD stressors:
Non-combat PTSD in veterans
PTSD is the most common service-connected mental health condition among veterans. At some point in their lives, 7% of veterans will have PTSD symptoms. Currently, over 1.3 million veterans receive VA disability for PTSD, making it the fourth most service-connected condition. Service-connected PTSD may stem from an incident in combat or a non-combat stressor.
Despite many misconceptions, veterans with non-combat PTSD typically experience the same symptoms and hardships as veterans with combat PTSD. Non-combat PTSD stressors are taken just as seriously as combat PTSD by medical professionals and the VA.
PTSD signs and symptoms
PTSD is a mental disorder that can affect those that have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or set of circumstances. Most people begin noticing PTSD symptoms within 3 months of the stressful event.
Someone with PTSD could have any of the following recurring symptoms:
- Intense, disturbing thoughts
- Avoidance of certain places, people, or situations that might trigger anxiety
- Loss of interest in activities
- Feelings of anger and detachment
- Flashback of the traumatic event
- Difficulty sleeping
- Easily startled
For all veterans, their families, and their friends struggling with their mental health, the Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 for support and resources to help you get the care you need to manage your PTSD symptoms and all other disabilities.
Non-combat PTSD stressors vs combat PTSD stressors
PTSD can develop from a variety of events experienced during service. These events, or “stressors,” often leave veterans with troubling memories that replay in their mind, making it difficult to manage everyday life.
It’s important to understand what your PTSD stressor is so you can develop a claim for service connection.
The VA recognizes two types of PTSD stressors: non-combat stressors and combat stressors. Let’s talk about the difference between the two.
Non-combat PTSD stressors are events involving harm caused by a person who is not considered part of an enemy force.
Examples of non-combat PTSD stressors include:
- Physical assault
- Military sexual trauma (MST)
- Witnessing a fellow soldier’s death or suicide
- Witnessing or experiencing a serious vehicle accident, plane crash, or a ship sinking
- Prolonged exposure to violence
- Training accidents
- Harassment from a superior
Combat PTSD stressors are those that are a result of enemy force and are experienced by veterans who were engaged in combat.
Examples of combat PTSD stressors include:
- Direct fire fight
- Being involved in an explosion
- Killing someone
- Enemy ambush
VA rating for non-combat PTSD
It doesn’t matter what event during service caused your PTSD to manifest, you deserve VA compensation. If your non-combat PTSD stressor is service connected, the VA will rate your disability based on the severity of your symptoms and how they affect your life.
The VA rates PTSD under diagnostic code 9411 using the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders. Based on your level of impairment, the VA could award you a rating of 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%.
Woods and Woods VA disability lawyer Lori Underwood explains, “The VA bases their ratings largely on the level of occupational and social impairment that your disability causes. However, that’s not the only thing that the VA considers whenever determining your rating. The code says that when evaluating a mental disorder, the rating agency shall consider the frequency, severity and duration of your psychiatric symptoms. While you may not be totally impaired for PTSD at a lower rating level, it may combine with other ratings to prevent your unemployability.”
Filing a claim for non-combat PTSD
Although the VA rates non-combat PTSD the same as combat PTSD, proving a service connection to a non-combat stressor can be more difficult. Having clear, authoritative documentation of your non-combat PTSD stressor is useful.
To file your claim for VA disability benefits for non-combat PTSD, you’ll need to submit the following supporting documentation to the VA:
- Show the VA that you have a PTSD diagnosis.
- Gather evidence of your stressor to establish a service connection. While it is not necessary, documentation about the stressor from during your service can be very helpful. Other evidence may include buddy statements or lay statements.
- Provide a link between the stressor and your symptoms. This can be done with a medical nexus from a professional.
After submitting a claim, you will have to undergo a compensation and pension exam (C&P exam), so the VA can determine your level of impairment. It’s important that you are completely honest with your examiner when describing your symptoms.
Downloadable C&P Exam Preparation Checklist
Click the image to download or print your own copy of our exam checklist or read more here.
Many veterans find it helpful to take note of their symptoms in the weeks leading up to their C&P exam, so all symptoms are taken into consideration and documented. We understand that this process could be especially emotionally taxing when your condition is related to trauma and your mental health, so we’ve written articles detailing what to expect at a C&P exam for MST and what to expect at a C&P exam for PTSD. These articles explain how you can best prepare for your exams.
Can I get TDIU for non-combat PTSD?
If your non-combat PTSD is making it difficult for you to seek or keep gainful employment, you could receive total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) for PTSD. Veterans who are eligible for TDIU receive VA disability compensation at the 100% level without their condition being rated 100% disabling. Vets with no dependents on TDIU currently receive tax-free payments of $3,621.95 each month.
You may want to seek TDIU for non-combat PTSD if, for example:
- You are unable to get out of bed and go into work due to extreme anxiety or depression
- You have trouble sleeping and fall asleep at work
- You have difficulty concentrating on work due to recurring negative thoughts
- Certain sights and sounds at work are triggering
“From the day we contacted [Woods and Woods], they made us feel so comfortable. They treated us like we mattered and we were not just clients but family.”
L.B., a Navy veteran and wife in FloridaGoogle review
How our VA disability lawyers can help
If you need help developing your claim, you think your current PTSD rating is too low, or you’ve already been denied, the VA-accredited attorneys at Woods and Woods can help. Consultations, phone calls, and advice are always free.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes. You are eligible to apply for VA benefits for PTSD even if you never saw combat, as long as your PTSD is still service-connected.
The VA rates non-combat and combat PTSD the same way. As long as your PTSD stressor happened during service, the VA will rate your disability based on the severity of your symptoms, regardless of the specific stressor that caused it.
All service-connected PTSD is rated using the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders. Based on your level of impairment, the VA could award you a rating of 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%.