Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a Disability in the United States?

In this article...
  • Learn whether post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is officially considered a disability in the United States and what this means for you and your benefit rights.

Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a Disability in the United States?

Life can be hard at times, with studies showing around 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one traumatic event, such as assault, sexual trauma, or natural disaster, in their lifetime. 

These events can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder, often shortened to PTSD. This anxiety disorder can develop after someone is exposed to an ordeal and can include flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and memories, hypervigilance for potential threats in one's environment, or emotional numbing. 

It’s a potentially debilitating condition that can impact all facets of your life. When you develop PTSD, you can feel isolated and alone, but in truth, around 8% of the population experiences PTSD at some time in their lives. 

If you’re struggling with the symptoms of PTSD, it’s important to understand how the condition is classed as a disability in the United States. In this article, we explore the question of whether PTSD qualifies as a disability under U.S. law and what implications this might have for Americans living with PTSD who are seeking benefits from the Social Security Administration or other government agencies. 

Is PTSD a Disability Under ADA?

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does not include a comprehensive list of all medical conditions and mental disorders that it classifies as disabilities. 

Instead, it states someone has a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Each person should be judged on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they have a disability or not. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that as PTSD severely impacts brain function, almost every person with PTSD would satisfy the ADA’s criteria for disability.

Does PTSD Qualify You for Disability?

Having PTSD may qualify you for one of the U.S. government’s disability benefits programs:

  • Supplemental Security Income: This program provides financial assistance to people living with limited resources who have certain hardships, including mental health conditions like PTSD.

  • Social Security Disability Insurance: This program provides financial assistance to people who cannot work due to disabilities, including PTSD. To be eligible, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a set period, which varies depending on your age.

Having PTSD won’t necessarily qualify you for these programs, but if you believe you are eligible, you can apply for these payments through your local Social Security Administration office. 

Meeting Social Security’s disability requirements for PTSD is one of the easiest ways to qualify. To meet these requirements, at least one of the following experiences should impact your daily life, including social functioning and your ability to concentrate:

  • Near-extreme anxiety
  • Emotional disturbance caused by recurring flashbacks, memories, or nightmares

Your doctor should also provide the following evidence:

  • A description of your PTSD
  • How your account of your PTSD matches their observations
  • What triggers or intensifies your symptoms
  • How your symptoms impact your ability to function at work and home

Disability Benefits for Veterans

If you’re a veteran officially diagnosed with PTSD after a traumatic experience that occurred during your service, Veterans Affairs (VA) may provide disability compensation if your symptoms mean you can’t function as well as you once could. 

Submit your claim form and supporting documents, including:

  • VA medical, hospital, and private medical records relating to your PTSD
  • Supporting statements from your friends, family members, and professional contacts
  • DD214 and other separation documents
  • Service treatment records
  • Additional medical evidence, including doctor’s reports

You can submit your claim online, by mail, or in person at your nearest Veterans Affairs office.

What Does PTSD Disability Pay?

The U.S. government’s disability schemes pay a lump sum to help people with PTSD cover their bills. 

The Veterans Affairs disability is a little more comprehensive, with payments available to cover the following expenses:

  • Health care costs
  • Treatment for PTSD
  • Disability compensation for the trauma and ongoing impact of PTSD

Payment rates vary depending on the severity of your PTSD, household income, and whether you have a dependent spouse and children. 

However, you can check your annual Social Security statement for an estimate of benefits. The average disabled person with Social Security Disability Insurance receives $1,259 per month.

How Does PTSD Limit Your Ability to Work?

PTSD can limit your ability to work in several ways, including:

  • Impairing your concentration
  • Triggering flashbacks, if your traumatic event happened at work
  • Causing panic attacks, which impact productivity
  • Making you feel angry or frustrated, which can impact your relationships with other employees and customers
  • Making you susceptible to substance abuse, which can affect your safety and performance
  • Making it difficult to attend work regularly and be productive

PTSD can severely impact your daily life, including your ability to work. However, as PTSD is typically recognized as a disability, government programs can provide financial assistance. 

While these programs can’t cure your PTSD, they can help ease some of the burden this condition can cause so you can focus on managing your symptoms.

About the Author

Zia Sherrell is a digital health journalist with over a decade of healthcare experience, a bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Leeds and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Manchester. Her work has appeared in Netdoctor, Medical News Today, Healthline, Business Insider, Cosmopolitan, Yahoo, Harper's Bazaar, Men's Health and more.

When she’s not typing madly, Zia enjoys traveling and chasing after her dogs.

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