Post-traumatic stress disorder, often referred to as PTSD, can make it difficult to hold a job. If your PTSD does interfere with your work, you may qualify to get monthly benefits and healthcare. In 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded benefits to 345,220 workers for mental disorders, which includes trauma- and stressor-related disorders like PTSD.
To help you understand if you’re eligible, we’ll explain how the SSA defines PTSD, when it can qualify for benefits, and how to apply for disability to help with your PTSD.
Is PTSD a disability?
Yes! The SSA considers PTSD a disability when it makes it impossible for you to hold a job and interferes with your ability to take care of yourself.
How the SSA defines PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that impacts people who have either witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Though PTSD is often associated with military veterans, trauma can be physical, emotional, or psychological. For this reason, the SSA classifies PTSD as a trauma- and stressor-related disorder.
When evaluating PTSD, the SSA looks for symptoms like involuntary flashbacks to the traumatic event, mood and behavior change, and increased reactivity.
Common types of PTSD
Individuals often experience a wide range of PTSD symptoms, which are then classified into five subtypes:
Normal Stress Response
Acute Stress Disorder
Can you get disability for PTSD?
If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, you may be able to get disability benefits. Like other mental health conditions, the SSA has strict criteria for evaluating PTSD, so qualifying isn’t always easy.
The SSA may be more likely to approve your case if you have another qualifying condition along with your PTSD, such as insomnia, depression, or anxiety. If your PTSD resulted from an event that left you with physical injuries as well, those may help you qualify if they make it harder for you to work.
To qualify, you’ll have to provide extensive documentation that your PTSD meets all SSA criteria. Working with a disability lawyer can also increase your odds of approval.
Criteria for getting disability with PTSD
The SSA has strict criteria for all mental disorders, including PTSD. To qualify for disability benefits, you’ll have to prove that your PTSD is debilitating, ongoing, and makes it impossible for you to hold a job.
Before you apply, consider whether or not your PTSD meets the following criteria. The SSA will check to see that you meet the conditions listed under section A, plus the conditions listed in either section B or C.
A. You have medical documentation of all of the following:
You were exposed to or threatened with death, serious injury, or violence.
You involuntarily re-experience the event through intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks.
You avoid reminders of the event.
You experience mood and behavior changes.
You’re more reactive, including a heightened startle response and difficulty sleeping.
B. You’re extremely limited in at least one of the following areas or markedly limited in two or more:
Understanding, remembering, or applying information
Interacting with others
Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining a steady pace during work activities
Adapting or managing your behaviors and emotions
C. Your PTSD has persisted for at least two years and you have evidence showing:
You’ve received medical treatment, therapy, support, or created highly-structured settings that effectively reduce your PTSD symptoms.
You have difficulty adjusting to change, including to demands that aren’t already part of your daily life.
Note that for the criteria in section B, the SSA defines extreme limitation as an inability to function “independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis.” With a marked limitation, you may still be able to function independently but your ability to do so is greatly reduced or inconsistent.
Questions to ask yourself before applying
You may qualify for disability benefits if you can answer yes to the following questions:
Do you avoid places or people that remind them of past traumatic or stressful events?
Are you easily startled or triggered?
Do you suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories?
Do you have difficulty with change, or with taking feedback and criticism at work?
If your PTSD meets the SSA criteria, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. You can apply even if you’re unsure you’ll qualify, but applying is time-consuming and may only be worth it if your odds of approval are high. Here’s our advice:
Apply now if:
You have a PTSD diagnosis AND
You frequently relive the event AND
You struggle to regulate your mood, interact with others, and concentrate, OR
You’ve had PTSD for at least two years and you have evidence that you struggle to adapt to changes in your environment
Consider waiting and applying later if:
You have PTSD but your doctor thinks your symptoms will improve within the next year OR
Your PTSD hasn’t interfered with your work, even if you worry that it will soon
Probably don’t apply if:
Your PTSD isn’t stopping you from working even though it’s challenging at times OR
You’re working and earning more than about $1,400 per month
You can also find out whether or not you’ll qualify by taking our free 2-minute disability benefits quiz. If you do qualify, we can connect you with an experienced disability lawyer for free. (You’ll only pay your lawyer if you do win disability benefits).
Which disability benefits should you apply for with PTSD?
PTSD often qualifies for disability. Even still, the type of benefits you receive impacts how much money you receive each month.
Since the programs share an application, you can apply for both to see which program will offer the best benefits. It’s also possible to receive both SSDI and SSI at the same time.
How much is a disability check for PTSD?
The SSA doesn’t list an official monthly payment for PTSD, but the average disability check for similar mental disorders is $1,229.06. Your work history, income history, and the benefits program you qualify for will all impact your actual check size. Payments don’t actually vary based on your condition. The maximum disability benefit is $3,627 for SSDI and $914 for SSI in 2023.
What if my PTSD doesn’t meet the criteria?
You can still apply. Even if your PTSD doesn’t meet all the criteria, applying may still be worth it if your PTSD interferes with your ability to work.
The reality is that qualifying for disability is difficult even if you have been struggling to maintain your job. Only 20% of applicants get approved on their initial application. But after a couple of rounds of appeal, you can state your case in front of a judge. More than half of applicants who appeal their cases in front of a judge do get approved. Applicants with a disability lawyer are also three times more likely to get approved for benefits.
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