Non-Combat PTSD: Verifying Your Stressor for VA Claim

Veterans diagnosed with non-combat PTSD but denied service connection frequently express a common frustration: “How can the VA say this never happened to me? I’m not lying!” But rather than accusing Veterans of stretching the truth, the VA will often cite a lack of evidence as reason for denial.

With something as deeply personal and traumatic as a stressor for PTSD, it can be difficult for Veterans to take a step back and realize what evidence they need to contest a denial of service connection for non-combat PTSD. No matter how it may feel to a Veteran in need of benefits, the rules constrain the VA from granting service connection until a claim meets a certain level of proof.

Non-Combat PTSD Stressor: What is it?

A stressor is an upsetting or distressing event that caused post-traumatic stress, which eventually develops into post-traumatic stress disorder. Some examples include being exposed to death, violence, or sexual assault in a direct or indirect way (i.e., as a witness).

Not every stressor has to be corroborated in order to obtain service connection. For example, if the stressor occurred during combat, the claim requires no stressor corroborating evidence.

Rules for Verifying Stressors

When a stressor needs to be corroborated for service connection, the VA will look for “credible supporting evidence of the veteran’s account of the in-service stressor.”

According to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, testimony by itself cannot, as a matter of law, establish the occurrence of an in-service stressor when the stressor was not related to combat or fear of hostile or terrorist activity.

This restriction results in many claims being denied because the only proof available is the veteran’s statement. However, this does not have to mean that the claim cannot be service-connected. There are many ways to corroborate a stressor, and the VA is required to assist in doing so.

VA Form 21-0781

It can be hard to recount details of a stressor incident. Because of this, many Veterans actively avoid doing the one thing that might help them the most. The VA Form 21-0781 exists to concisely outline the in-service source of non-combat PTSD so the VA can adequately process the claim.

Among other things, the form asks for the approximate date, location, and a brief description of the incident.

But what if the Veteran cannot recall certain details of the incident? Many people have difficulty remembering traumatic moments, especially decades after the fact. Veterans filling out the form should focus on what they do remember instead.

Some of the information on the form may be inexactly reported, particularly with regard to the date of the incident, but if the Veteran can pin down a two-month window of time, the VA can send the stressor to be verified with the record keepers.

If the estimated date of the incident cannot be narrowed to two months, it is important to try to approximate some period of time in which the VA might search for records.

No Records of the Incident

The VA’s obligation to assist pertains mainly to gathering records. If the incident never made it into the records, the stressor will have to be proved by other means. This scenario occurs often in the case of military sexual trauma (MST), in which the victim wishes to remain silent due to fear of reprisal or feelings of shame.

Corroborating evidence in cases where the stressor incident was not reported can come in the form of other service records, such as performance evaluations.

Perhaps the veteran was doing well at work, moving toward a promotion, and suddenly became a substandard member of the team.

He or she may have also sought medical treatment for injuries or problems related to the stressful incident, creating a paper trail in the process.

Evidence of an in-service stressor does not always have to come from military service records. Instead, the veteran can have friends, family, spouses, or fellow service-members submit statements about the time of the stressor. Even if the veteran did not tell them about the incident itself, perhaps they noticed the veteran’s personality changing.

Non-Combat PTSD Stressor: Get Help from a Veteran

Just because you’ve been denied doesn’t mean you should give up.

The attorneys at Berry Law have spent decades successfully fighting for veterans’ benefits.

We have never had a client regret his or her pursuit of VA compensation.

Berry Law is America’s Veterans Law Firm, and your fire support team to battle the VA.

With attorneys from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, fighting for fellow Veterans is an important part of who we are.

We’ve walked the same streets as you and understand the difficulties you have fighting the VA.

If your claim has been denied or your rating decision is inadequate, contact us today. Your consultation is free.