Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was initially called Shellshock. The original term acknowledged the vast number of veterans who ultimately received this diagnosis as a result of their experiences while fighting in war.
However, as time went on, psychology advanced its understanding of PTSD to realize it not only affected war veterans but a wide variety of individuals from all walks of life.
PTSD is a stress disorder arising out of experiencing or witnessing a shock trauma. While not everyone who experiences shock will end up with the disorder, for those that do, their ability to live a normal life may be severely compromised.
As such, some individuals may qualify for disability for PTSD.
Is PTSD a Disability?
In short, yes. PTSD is a disability. However, unlike physical disabilities, challenges resulting from mental health struggles are rarely seen. Often, they are silent struggles. This creates a stigma around claiming benefits and legitimizing that post-traumatic stress disorder is, in fact, extremely limiting for many of those who suffer from it.
While post-traumatic stress disorder is commonly associated with veterans and military professionals, anyone can suffer from PTSD. In fact, there are many insurances in which toxic work environments and on-the-job sexual transgressions lead many individuals down the road of a post-traumatic stress diagnosis.
No matter the cause, PTSD symptoms can be severe, sometimes limiting an individual’s ability to work. It is at this point many want to learn about their options for social security disability benefits and whether they qualify. Read more about the criteria below.
What is PTSD
When we experience a trauma, how the body ultimately processes that event is the main indicator or whether we end up with a disordered stress response or a healthy one.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Volume 5 (DSM-V) is a book of criteria that allows medical professionals to have standard qualifications for various diagnosis types. These are then used to communicate with the Social Security Administration and with insurance providers about the kind and justification of your condition, disability, and needs.
As such, the DSM-V puts forth various criteria and symptoms to meet the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
(Note: Categories are provided by the work of Matthew J. Friedman MD, Ph.D. in his presentation for the National Center for PTSD Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth).
DSM-5: PTSD Criterion A
The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows:
- Direct exposure
- Witnessing an event
- Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
- Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television movies or pictures
DSM-5: PTSD Criterion B
Intrusion (1/5 symptoms needed)
- Recurrent, involuntary and intrusive recollections *
* children may express this symptom in repetitive play
- Traumatic nightmares
* children may have disturbing dreams without content related to trauma
- Dissociative reactions (e.g. flashbacks) which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness *
* children may re-enact the event in play
- Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
- Marked physiological reactivity after exposure to trauma-related stimuli
DSM-5: PTSD Criterion C
Persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimuli after the event (1/2 symptoms needed):
- Trauma-related thoughts or feelings
- Trauma-related external reminders (e.g. people, places, conversations, activities, objects or situations)
DSM-5: PTSD Criterion D
Negative alterations in cognitions and mood that began or worsened after the traumatic event (2/7 symptoms needed)
- Inability to recall key features of the traumatic event (usually dissociative amnesia; not due to head injury, alcohol or drugs)
- Persistent(often distorted) negative beliefs and expectations about oneself or the world (e.g. “I am bad,” “the world is completely dangerous”)
- Persistent distorted blame of self or others for causing the traumatic event or for resulting consequences (new)
- Persistent negative trauma-related emotions (e.g. fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame) (new)
- Markedly diminished interest in (pre-traumatic) significant activities
- Feeling alienated from others (e.g. detachment or estrangement)
- Constricted Affect: persistent inability to experience positive emotions
DSM-5: PTSD Criterion E
Trauma-related alterations in arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the traumatic event (2/6 symptoms needed)
- Irritable or aggressive behavior
- Self-destructive or reckless behavior
- Exaggerated Startle Response
- Problems In Concentration
- Sleep disturbance
Additional PTSD Criteria for DSM-5
F. Persistence of symptoms (in Criteria B, C, D and E) for more than one month
G. Significant symptom-related distress or functional impairment
H. Not due to medication, substance or illness
Receiving a diagnosis that meets these criteria from a mental health professional is only the first step in receiving disability benefits through Social Security. In the next step, we will discuss how the SSA looks at your functioning to determine which type, if any, benefits you are entitled to.
Getting Through the SSA
When looking to get Social Security benefits, the SSA will impose a second set of eligibility requirements before allowing benefits. These requirements are to ensure you are functionally impaired to justify the added said.
The SSA measures your impairment due to post-traumatic stress disorder by stating you must be severely impaired in at least two of the following areas and these impairments must be the result of the traumatic event causing your PTSD.
- Understanding, processing, remembering, and applying new information
- Concentrating on a task enough to complete it at as reasonable speed
- Interacting with others in a manner deemed socially acceptable
- Carrying out basic life responsibilities, such as maintaining proper hygiene, shopping for oneself, etc.
Many individuals do not meet the necessary severity of the above requirements, however, that does not necessarily make disability benefits an unattainable goal. Instead, those with milder (though still intrusive) ptsd symptoms, can apply for a Medical-Vocational Allowance.
What Are Medical-Vocational Allowance Benefits
Medical-Vocational Allowances are for individuals with post-traumatic stress that meet the DSM criteria, are severely impaired, but do not rise to the level of function difficulty required by the SSA to receive traditional disability benefits.
At this point, an independent medical examiner will assess your condition and assign you a residual functional capacity (RFC) rating— a rating that describes the limitations of your present working capacity.
If the SSA finds that working within these limitations will make it impossible for you to maintain steady and gainful employment, you are considered qualified to receive social security disability benefits. As with all disability claims, the exact amount of your compensation will depend on the severity of your PTSD symptoms and the extent to which those symptoms affect your work. Each case is different and it is always best to work with an attorney to ensure the best results.
Social Security Disability Lawyer in Alabama
Law is a nuanced and intricate field. When the stakes are high and you rely on a good outcome to meet your day-to-day needs, working with a dedicated social security disability lawyer is your best chance at success.
At Cook and Associates, we help our clients with a variety of legal needs, ensuring they are supported through every step of the process.
If you are unsure of whether you qualify for a certain type of disability benefit or are otherwise looking for more help on matters involving the crossroads of social security and mental health, we are just a quick phone call away.
Contact us at (334) 356-7879 for more information and get on the path to receiving the benefits you deserve.