Can You Get Social Security for Trauma-Related Disorders?

You can get Social Security benefits for trauma-related disorders.

Trauma-related disorders, such as PTSD, can be the basis for a disability claim.  Trauma-related disorders often involve a person experiencing violence or the threat of violence at some point in their life, and then subsequently being unable to avoid unwelcome or intrusive thoughts of the trauma later in life.  These conditions can result in severe social dysfunction and avoidance of certain situations that bring about unwanted recollections or panic.  These conditions can affect a person’s mood and behavior in ways that negatively impact their ability to function in work settings or social settings.

You will never have to describe the trauma.  Many of my clients worry that by applying for disability on the basis of a trauma-related disorder, they will be required to describe the traumatic events they experienced which led to the condition.  However, this is not the case!  Social Security will never ask you to describe or recount the traumatic events you experienced earlier in your life.  Social Security is only concerned with how the condition affects you now – what symptoms you experience now that affect your day-to-day functioning and ability to work.  For example, a Social Security judge might ask you to explain how often you experience intrusive thoughts of past trauma, but would not ask you to describe the traumatic event itself. 

How Trauma-Related Disorders Can Become a Disability 

Severe trauma-related disorders can be the sole basis for approving disability.  These conditions can cause a person to have severe problems in social settings.  The condition can cause someone to avoid certain public or social settings all together.  Additionally, intrusive thoughts of past trauma can severely impact a person’s ability to learn new things, following instruction, concentrate for extended periods, focus on the task at hand, and manage the stresses of normal life.  To the extent that a trauma-related disorder causes extreme limitations in any one of these categories, a person should be presumed disabled under the Adult Listings for Mental Disorders.  Examples of extreme limitations: if you are unable to focus on a simple task for a 2 hour period; if you are unable to leave your home due to social anxiety; if you are unable to live alone due to an inability to take care of your own needs; if you are unable to remember simple instructions; if you are unable to learn new tasks without mistakes.

How Will Social Security Evaluate Trauma-Related Disorders?

Trauma-related disorders don’t have to be extreme in order to help win a disability case.  Another path to a judgement of disability through the Adult Listings for Mental Disorders is if you have been treated effectively, and your condition has responded by having diminished symptoms, but you have a minimal capacity to adapt to new changes in your life that would create added stress, such as working.  Some people find that through medication, therapy, or intense family support, that they are able to control their trauma-related symptoms.  But if they are expected to start a new job, all the progress would be instantly lost.  This particular listing can be a little trickier to prove, as the treatment notes will often indicate improvement, but won’t necessarily explain the fragile nature of that improvement.  In these instances, a letter from your doctor or your therapist can be very helpful - explaining that you are unable to adapt to new changes or new demands in your life.  Combat veterans with PTSD often find themselves in this category.  In my experience, combat veterans often “seem okay” to casual observers.  These veterans can get by in most settings due to the therapy received at the VA and medication use.   However, when placed in stressful settings or employment settings, their symptoms can come back with a fury.

Trauma-related disorders don’t have to be totally disabling in order to help win a disability case.  If you have multiple physical or mental health conditions, then a trauma-related disorder, even if mild or moderate in severity, must be taken into consideration in combination with your other conditions to determine if you can work.  For example, if you suffer from PTSD, you may not be able to go into public areas where there are large gatherings, as such gatherings may trigger you to have severe symptoms.  Therefore, entire lines of work where you would interact with the public would be eliminated, such as working in a grocery store or a movie theater.  Social Security doesn’t look at each condition in isolation, but rather looks at the total combined effect of all your conditions to determine if there is any work remaining that you can do.

Trauma-Related Disorders and Employment 

Trauma-related disorders could also affect your ability to attend work regularly without an excessive amount of absences or time off task.  For example, if a person with PTSD encounters triggers on the way to work that bring on a flood of intrusive thoughts, they may not be able to function at work that day and need to take the day off.  Employers will only tolerate so many absences before a person would be terminated.  These types of difficulties sustaining full time work must be taken into consideration, and can be the basis for a finding of disability.

Is Medical Proof Required?

Proving you have been diagnosed with a trauma-related disorder isn’t enough by itself.  What is important is proving the severity of your condition and how it specifically would affect you in the work place.  This must be proven with medical evidence.  Evidence for the severity of a trauma-related disorder is usually found in the notes of mental health care providers, such as therapists and psychologists.  Contemporaneous notes from these types of providers are valuable to Social Security Judges in determining how your condition affects your life, and how severely you are impacted.  For this reason, keeping up with your regular therapy appointments is absolutely vital to having a chance of success in a disability case involving a trauma-related disorder.

Our Social Security Disability Attorneys Are Here Help

Whether you're just beginning your application for disability benefits, or you've already been denied and need to file an appeal, our Social Security disability lawyers are here to guide you through the entire process. Since 1936, we've been dedicated to getting disabled people the benefits they're entitled to. Contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with our disability attorneys.

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