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Is PTSD a Disability? Benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
January 27, 2023  ·  4 min read

Post-traumatic stress disorder (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 2022, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded benefits to 338,060 workers for mental disorders, which include 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 the symptoms of PTSD make it impossible for you to hold a job and interferes with your ability to take care of yourself.

Your PTSD may also be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination, does not provide an approved list of impairments; it applies to all medical conditions that substantially limit major life activities.

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 Blue Book 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

  • Uncomplicated PTSD

  • Complex PTSD

  • Comorbid PTSD

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.

We've helped 343 people with mental illness win benefits.

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 reexperience 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?

  • Is it hard for you to interact with others?

Get more advice from our lawyers on applying for disability with a mental health condition.

My PTSD meets the criteria. Now what?

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.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is designed for people with a long work history — typically at least five of the last ten years. People who have less work history and little to no monthly income or assets are usually covered by Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

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  $1,343.88. 

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 $3,822 for SSDI and $943 for SSI in 2024.

What if my PTSD doesn’t meet the criteria?

Even if your PTSD doesn’t meet all the eligibility 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.

Learn more about the application process with our step-by-step guide to applying for disability.

If you do apply but need financial assistance while you wait for a decision, check out these helpful resources for people with disabilities.

See if your PTSD might qualify for disability.

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Related resources:

Is it Hard to Get Disability for Mental Illness? (Yes, But This Can Help)

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By Sydney Hershenhorn

What Medical Conditions Qualify for Social Security Disability?

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By Jackie Jakab

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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