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VA Disability Rating for PTSD: What Veterans Can Expect

September 26, 2022

For hundreds of thousands of veterans, the stress and trauma they experienced because of their service don’t go away after they’ve been discharged. Whether you served in combat or were a victim of military sexual trauma, military service can leave deep psychological and emotional scars that impact occupational and social functioning months, year, or even decades after returning home.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most common mental disorders in the veteran community, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes it as a qualifying condition for VA disability benefits. However, the claims process is not easy, which often discourages veterans from pursuing the benefits they need to live a healthier, happier life.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Karl Truman is a VA disability attorney who served 28 years in the United States Army. He has seen firsthand the effects of military service on veterans and the challenges that they face when living with debilitating mental and physical conditions. As an attorney, he has helped many veterans through the application and appeals processes to secure their benefits.

In this post, we’ll walk through the VA disability compensation process for PTSD, including what kind of disability rating for PTSD veterans can expect.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. For example, natural disasters, military combat, continuous exposure to stressful situations with no break, and sexual assault are some situations that can cause PTSD.

Of course, some degree of anxiety, shock, depression, and fear after a traumatic event is to be expected as part of processing the event. It can be difficult to go about your daily life after witnessing or experiencing extreme violence, destruction, or abuse. However, if your symptoms persist several weeks after the incident with no improvement, it is possible that you are having the severe stress response known as PTSD.

It’s important to understand that PTSD is a genuine mental disorder that results from chemical changes in the brain. Developing PTSD symptoms is not a sign of mental weakness, and “toughening up” won’t make it go away.

Many veterans begin to notice PTSD symptoms within a few weeks to a month of trauma, but sometimes they may not develop until months or even years later when the veteran is exposed to a triggering event.

a veteran experiencing symptoms of depression

PTSD Symptoms

Specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely from person to person, depending on the individual and the trauma they experienced. However, most symptoms are classified in one of four broad categories, and you generally need to exhibit at least one symptom in each category to establish a PTSD diagnosis.


Avoidance is a mechanism people use to try to prevent remembering or re-experiencing the traumatic event. It could be avoidance of a specific place or activity, or it could be avoidance of thinking or talking about certain people or events,

For example, if you have PTSD from combat, you might refuse to watch war movies, talk about your experience, or even be a part of a large crowd due to the risk of triggering unwanted symptoms.

Re-Experiencing Intrusive Memories

This symptom refers to a memory of the event triggering overwhelming negative feelings. Although almost everyone has some unhappy memories that are unpleasant to think about, people with severe PTSD can “relive” the event with the same intensity of emotion as they had when it happened—sometimes years or even decades later.

Anything can be a trigger: a sound, a smell, hearing someone talk about it, or something you see.


This symptom includes profound changes in how you respond, physically and emotionally, to various situations and senses. For example, you may experience feelings of sudden anger and a tendency to always be looking for threats. You may be sensitive to loud noises and have difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

Examples of these kinds of symptoms include:

  • Chronic sleep impairment
  • Impaired impulse control
  • Panic attacks
  • Being easily startled

Negative Changes in Beliefs, Thinking, or Mood

Traumatic events cause us to view the world and the people in it differently. You may find it difficult to get close to people or have positive feelings about others (or yourself). Some examples of negative changes might include:

  • Feeling hopeless or emotionally numb about the present and future
  • Feeling detached from loved ones
  • Mild memory loss
  • Impaired abstract thinking
  • Lack of attention to personal appearance/minimal personal hygiene
  • Suicidal ideation

What to Do If You Think You May Have PTSD

If you think you may be experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, please schedule an appointment with your doctor. It is a serious mental health disorder, and you could benefit from effective treatment and a support network.

The attorneys at our law firm can help you secure VA benefits for PTSD. If you have a service-related disability, these benefits are owed to you and can help you live with the expenses, costs, and requirements of the disorder.

discussing symptoms of PTSD with a VA attorney

How Do I get Veterans’ Benefits for PTSD?

If you are a veteran and with a demonstrated service connection for PTSD, you may be eligible to receive VA disability benefits. The Compensation and Pension Service (C&P) is the division of the VA that will assess your claim. You will need to fill out various forms and complete interviews as part of the veterans’ disability claims process.

Some of the documentation you will need to provide includes:

  • Service treatment records
  • Medical records related to your PTSD
  • Discharge papers
  • VA Form 21-0781: Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or VA Form 21-0781a: Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Secondary to Personal Assault

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to secure the benefits you deserve. It takes time and effort to gather information and do necessary paperwork. Too often, claims are denied, and people resign themselves to continue suffering from PTSD instead of appealing.

Karl Truman understands that the process can be frustrating and overwhelming. He and his staff can help you through the application process and the appeal process if your claim is denied. He will fight for you to have access to the care and treatment you need, so you can focus on taking care of yourself.

RELATED POST: Do I Qualify for VA Disability?

VA Disability Ratings for PTSD

If your VA disability claim is approved, you will be assigned a disability rating. As with most other mental disorders, your PTSD may be rated at 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100 percent.

10% Disability Rating for PTSD

Veterans in this category experience “mild or transient symptoms” from their PTSD, or their symptoms are fairly well controlled by continuous medication. There may be some mild occupational and social impairment that may “decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks,” but only intermittently and under particularly stressful circumstances.

30% Disability Rating for PTSD

A veteran with a 30% disability rating is still considered to be “generally functioning satisfactorily), but symptoms will occasionally be severe enough to make it impossible to perform occupational tasks. Symptoms like chronic sleep impairment, mild memory loss, depression, and panic attacks (no more than weekly) are characteristic of veterans in this category.

50% Disability Rating for PTSD

At the 50% PTSD rating, you may still be able to work, but there is noticeable social and occupational impairment affecting your reliability and productivity. You might experience more frequent panic attacks (more than once per week), more severe memory loss, and impaired abstract thinking, judgment, or ability to understand complex instructions.

70% Disability Rating for PTSD

Veterans at a 70% PTSD rating will likely struggle to maintain employment and good relationships in work, school, and family settings. Typical symptoms of veterans who receive this rating include “near continuous” depression or panic attacks, frequent irrational or angry outbursts, obsessional rituals, and suicidal ideation.

100% Disability Rating for PTSD

The 100% rating is reserved for veterans with “total occupational and social impairment.” Typical symptoms in this category include “grossly inappropriate behavior,” experiencing frequent delusions or hallucinations, severe disorientation, memory loss, and being a persistent danger to the health and safety of oneself or others.

a VA attorney researching disability ratings for PTSD

Why Is My Disability Rating So Low?

Something that should be apparent from reading the above PTSD disability ratings: obtaining a 100% rating from the VA is extremely difficult, and requires a veteran to essentially be completely unable to function in everyday life.

But, you have more than an unreasonably high bar to clear. On top of that, many (if not most) veterans are either unfairly denied or underrated based on the true nature of their PTSD symptoms. We often see veterans who should qualify for, say, a 70% rating but are only approved for 50% or even 30%. Because the definitions of each rating level can be somewhat subjective, it’s important to have strong evidence backing up your claim.

RELATED POST: Was Your VA Disability Claim Denied? Here’s What You Should Do Next

To reduce the risk of being awarded a disability rating that’s too low, or to improve your chances of increasing your current PTSD disability rating, you may consider the following tips and strategies.

  • Don’t downplay your symptoms. Even when VA disability is on the line, it can be hard to admit when you need help or open up about how you really feel on your worst day to a medical examiner. Many veterans are used to “toughing it out” and uncomfortable talking about their struggles or being vulnerable. But if you want your disability rating to be fair, you need to be as honest as possible about what you’re truly experiencing.
  • Ask an independent medical provider to complete a DBQ. In March 2021, the VA released new DBQ (disability benefits questionnaire) forms publicly available and accessible for use by civilian health providers—not just VA staff and contract physicians. These DBQs help private physicians accurately gather all the necessary information to fully rate a disability according to the VA’s requirements. Although DBQs aren’t strictly necessary, they are an important addition to your existing medical records and can make it easier for veterans to show they deserve a higher rating.
  • Ask for witnesses’ statements. The VA must consider letters from credible, first-hand witnesses as secondary evidence in evaluating your case. The testimony of friends, family members, work colleagues, or anyone else who knows you well and can speak with authority about your symptoms—and how they’ve changed over time—can be extremely helpful. The more credible letters you can collect, the better.
  • Talk to an experienced VA disability attorney. The VA disability claims system is difficult enough to navigate even for veterans without any emotional or cognitive impairments. An attorney can guide you and your loved ones through every aspect of your VA disability claim, from gathering evidence, to submitting the correct paperwork, to handling your appeal if your claim is denied or you believe your disability rating is too low.

Do you want to learn more about the appeal process? Order a free copy of my book “Fight the VA and Win”

Fight The VA and Win

Whether you are Army Strong, one of The Few and the Proud, Not for Self but Country, you Aim High, or are Always Ready, you have represented the colors of this great nation. No matter old or young, this country owes you a debt—especially if you have physical lasting effects of your time in service. Your benefits may only be a few forms away.


Count on the Colonel for Help with Veterans’ Disability Benefits

Our office has been successfully handling VA disability cases for more than three decades. And as a veteran himself, Karl Truman understands the sacrifices military families make, and the struggles many veterans face as they readjust to civilian life while still carrying physical, mental, and emotional scars from their service.

It is our honor to serve veterans and their families in the Jeffersonville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky areas. Please contact us today at 812-282-8500 for a free consultation to find out how we may be able to help you get the benefits you need.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.