We often represent clients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD. PTSD can cause an individual to isolate or engage in other socially avoidant or inappropriate behaviors. The first of these often results in an individual who cannot maintain consistent attendance at work for fear of the symptoms they might experience while exposed to other individuals or the common stresses of a work environment. The second is an individual who exhibits symptoms that are distracting, disruptive or simply not tolerated by most employers.
If you have been diagnosed with PTSD and have had difficulty maintaining regular employment due to the symptoms you experience, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.
Your PTSD Must Be Severe to Get Social Security
Like any other physical or mental impairment, Social Security will consider whether you have been formally diagnosed with PTSD and whether the symptoms it causes “significantly interfere” with your ability to work consistently. For individuals under the age of 50, this means demonstrating that all of your physical and mental impairments combined prevent you from being able to consistently perform any job.
Individuals over the age of 50 often (but not always) only need to prove their combined impairments result in an inability to perform the jobs they have performed in the previous 15 years before they became disabled. Symptoms of PTSD, in severe cases, can independently prevent an individual from being able to consistently work. In less severe cases where PTSD may just be one of many impairments, even mild or moderate PTSD symptoms can be used to demonstrate difficulties with maintaining adequate concentration or meeting the social requirements to perform certain jobs.
How Is PTSD Diagnosed for Social Security?
You may have wondered what a mental health doctor looks for in order to make a diagnosis of PTSD. You might even wonder if PTSD requires trauma resulting from exposure to extreme danger such as combat or experience of an assault. This is how most people generally think of PTSD. However, the National Institute of Health cautions that “not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event.” While victims of or witnesses to extreme violence and/or danger may certainly be who we think of when we think of PTSD, sometimes, an event in which the person who is ultimately traumatized was never in actual danger or perceived danger can result in PTSD. The National Institute of Health uses “the unexpected death of a loved one” as an example of such a trauma-inducing event which can ultimately lead to PTSD.
In addition to an underlying trauma, the National Institute of Health requires that an individual experience at least one re-experiencing symptom, one avoidance symptoms, two arousal and reactivity symptoms and two cognition and mood symptoms to diagnose PTSD in a patient. Examples of these are listed here. While these criteria sound complicated, they really are not. They are as simple as having bad dreams or intrusive thoughts about one’s trauma; avoiding anything that reminds you of the underlying trauma; irritability; trouble sleeping; or feeling guilty, anxious, or depressed.
Social Security Has Specific Qualifications for PTSD
Beyond demonstrating how PTSD—along with your other impairments—prevents you from being able to consistently perform a job, disability caused by PTSD may also be proven through one of Social Security’s listings of presumptive disability. This means that your symptoms are well-documented in your medical records and equally serious to Social Security’s defined requirements of its PTSD listing. The Social Security listing 12.15 for Trauma-and stressor-related disorders can be found here. Social Security Listing 12.15 is more demanding than the National Institute of Health’s requirement for a diagnosis of PTSD. It requires that an individual’s underlying trauma result from “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence” as opposed to something like an “unexpected death of a loved one.”
In addition to exhibiting the other diagnostic criteria for PTSD outlined above, Social Security’s Listing 12.15 also requires an individual prove what may seem like extreme limits, resulting from PTSD, in the individual’s ability to function in daily life. The two most obvious areas for an individual with PTSD to prove such extreme limitations would be in the areas of interacting with others and maintaining concentration. An individual with PTSD may experience flashbacks or intrusive thoughts which prevent them from focusing on anything else for prolonged periods of time. They may react in an inappropriate manner to anything that startles or reminds them of their underlying trauma. For example, an individual may experience a crying spell or outburst in response to the criticism of a supervisor, coworker, or even a member of their own household. These sorts of symptoms, if observed and documented by a mental health clinician, create an evidentiary basis that a skilled attorney can use to prove an individual meets the criteria of Listing 12.15. Likewise, a judge’s acceptance of the fact these behaviors are likely to occur even on rare occasions can result in a conclusion that the individual exhibiting them cannot perform any jobs and is disabled as a result.
If your PTSD symptoms improve with a combination of consistent receipt of mental healthcare and avoidance of stressful environments (such as a work environment), it does not necessarily mean that your PTSD is not disabling. If an individual is functioning well at home where they are comfortable while receiving consistent therapy for their condition, their PTSD may still even meet Listing 12.15. This circumstance generally requires a supportive treatment provider who can speak to whether the individual’s progress would be lost if they were taken out of their comfort zone and forced to re-enter a work environment.
If you intend to prove your PTSD is disabling to the Social Security Administration, it is vital that you maintain regular mental health treatment with either a doctor, a therapist or both. Without their documentation of your symptoms and their opinion supportive of your PTSD symptoms causing the sorts of limitations that render an individual disabled, a favorable outcome will be in serious doubt. Many times, I represent clients who are deemed 100% disabled on the basis of PTSD by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Some mistakenly presume this is enough to get Social Security to approve them for benefits on the same basis. Unfortunately, it is not. Even individuals who have been disabled by another government agency for their PTSD need to maintain consistent treatment with their providers so that they can help to document and demonstrate that the individual’s PTSD symptoms are as limiting as they allege.
Our Social Security Attorneys Can Help With Your Claim
At Keller & Keller, our Social Security lawyers have been helping people with disabilities get the benefits that they've earned since 1936. Whether you need to file your initial application, are facing a hearing, or even if you've already been denied, we can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our legal team.