Adjustment Disorder vs. PTSD in Veterans

Adjustment Disorder vs. PTSD in Veterans

Veterans can face many traumatic events throughout their time in the service. After coming home from being discharged, many will likely have difficulty adjusting to their former way of life, in part due to what they experienced in the service.

Because of these traumatic events, there is a chance that Veterans may suffer from adjustment disorder or PTSD.

You may be wondering about the difference between the two.

It is essential to clarify the differences between PTSD and adjustment disorder. Failure to do can lead to confusion and also lead Veterans to possibly make mistakes when making a claim through the VA.

Key Takeaways:

  • You’ll learn about the difference between adjustment disorder and PTSD
  • You’ll know the symptoms of adjustment disorder and PTSD
  • You’ll learn what causes adjustment disorder and PTSD
  • You’ll understand how to make a claim through the VA

What Is the Difference Between Adjustment Disorder and PTSD?

For a Veteran to make a claim for their PTSD, they should know the difference between that and an adjustment disorder.

Adjustment disorder is a recognized short-term health condition that occurs when one goes through a change in life and has difficulty adjusting to it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), on the other hand, is a mental disorder caused by a traumatic event that has happened in one’s life.

The main difference between the two is that an adjustment disorder involves stressful situations, while PTSD occurs after a traumatic event.

Many Veterans face traumatic events while they are in the military. Traumatic events do not always have to occur in combat situations.

Veterans encounter traumatic experiences outside of combat. Whether it is through the death of a fellow service member, sexual assault, or a natural disaster, non-combat traumatic experiences can be just as serious as combat situations.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies both PTSD and adjustment disorder. Thankfully, the Department of Veterans Affairs will give benefits to Veterans who suffer from adjustment disorder and PTSD.

What Are the Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder?

Because adjustment disorder is considered a short-term disorder, symptoms will usually not last as long as some forms of PTSD.

However, that does not mean that it should go untreated. Any untreated symptoms can develop into something more serious over time.

Here are some of the symptoms of adjustment disorder:

  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Depressing thoughts
  • Hopelessness
  • Fatigue
  • Inconsistent eating habits
  • Isolation from others
  • Excessive crying
  • Decreased performance

If a Veteran feels as though they have any of these symptoms, they should consult a medical professional immediately.

The only way that a Veteran will be able to get benefits for adjustment disorder is by making a service connection. Going to a VA medical doctor will allow them to get the proper diagnosis and go over the details of the stressor(s).

How Is Adjustment Disorder Treated?

Medical professionals mainly prescribe two outlets as proper treatment for adjustment disorder: medication and therapy.

Consistent counseling has been known to benefit Veterans suffering from adjustment disorder. Therapy sessions allow Veterans to adjust to their new situation in life, and feelings of isolation can change as well.

Medication has also shown to be effective in decreasing the symptoms of adjustment disorder. One of the main types of medication Veterans take for adjustment disorder is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This antidepressant can help a Veteran adapt to the changes they may be going through.

Though treatment for adjustment disorder is not as long as some other mental disorders, it can take a long time. This is especially the case when a Veteran suffers from both adjustment disorder and PTSD.

A Veteran can suffer from both. Many Veterans suffer from traumatic experiences that are not dealt with while in the service, and then they are discharged and have to adjust to a new way of life.

Many Veterans are overwhelmed when this happens. A lack of immediate treatment can make symptoms incredibly difficult to deal with.

This is why a medical professional must be immediately consulted when a Veteran goes through a major change in their life or when they have a traumatic experience. If they do not, it may only get worse, which may be more difficult to treat in the long run.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD differ from those of adjustment disorder, mainly because PTSD has four different categories.

Here are the symptoms of PTSD, broken down into four categories:

Intrusive thoughts:

  • Nightmares or bad dreams
  • Reliving the traumatic event
  • Distressing memories
  • Emotional distress 


  • Isolation from other people
  • Avoiding people, places, or thoughts that remind the Veteran of the traumatic event

Negative thoughts and feelings:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Negative thoughts of oneself
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities

Changes in reaction:

  • Easily startled
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Always on guard

A Veteran has to show symptoms of all four categories to be diagnosed with PTSD. If a Veteran feels as though they are experiencing symptoms, they should consult a doctor.

Failure to treat PTSD can result in extreme cases of homelessness or suicide. The best way to decrease the symptoms of PTSD is by finding a doctor who can lead you to proper treatments.

Making a Claim for Adjustment Disorder and PTSD

There are both similarities and important differences between the process of making a claim for adjustment disorder and making one for PTSD.

The main similarity between the two is the necessity of an in-service connection. If a Veteran’s mental disorder cannot be connected to their time in the service, the VA will not grant them their claim or benefits.

A Veteran must gather the right information to prove the necessary factors for an in-service connection.

There are three components for making a service connection:

  1. A current diagnosis under the standards of DSM-5
  2. Evidence of an in-service stressor
  3. A medical nexus between the current diagnosis and the in-service stressor

If any of these three components are missing from a Veterans claim, then they will not be able to make a service connection.

What Is the Difference in the Process?

One of the main differences between making a claim for PTSD instead of an adjustment disorder is the special rules surrounding PTSD.

It can be incredibly difficult to get benefits from the VA for PTSD because of these special rules.

Veterans will usually have to go to a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam to qualify for a service connection for PTSD. If they fail to do so, the VA will most likely deny their claim, and they will have to start over again.

What if the VA Makes a Mistake?

It is common for the VA to make mistakes. Whether it comes from overlooking key information or not compiling the evidence properly to make a sound judgment on a disability rating, the VA is known to make mistakes.

This can be especially common in claims that have to do with mental disorders.

Because the VA is still learning so much about mental disorders, there is a tendency to make mistakes when going through a Veteran’s claim and giving disability ratings.

The good news is that if the VA makes a mistake, the Veteran can appeal the VA’s decision.

It is critical that the Veteran begins the appeal process within a year of the initial decision that the VA made. If they fail to do so, they will have to start the whole process all over again. Veterans should not have to wait that long for their benefits.

The earlier the appeal process starts, the more likely a Veteran will receive benefits more quickly.

For the best results in the appeals process, a Veteran should work with an experienced attorney. The appeal process is considered more difficult than the claims process, and it can even take longer.

Many Veterans are unfamiliar with the VA’s regulations and rules, which can make them prone to simple mistakes, even if they are unaware of them.

To make sure that a Veteran’s appeal is as good as it can be, they should consult an attorney at Berry Law. Our experience allows us to effectively advocate for Veterans when the VA makes mistakes.


Though there are similarities between adjustment disorder and PTSD, there are important differences as well.

Because traumatic events do not usually cause adjustment disorder, Veterans may find that treatment does not have to be as long as it is for PTSD.

However, this is not always the case, and in any situation where there are symptoms of either adjustment disorder or PTSD, Veterans should seek treatment.

For more information on VA law, visit our website.


Adjustment Disorder (Stress Response Syndrome).

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Adjustment Disorder vs. PTSD – The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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