Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) vs. PTSD in Veterans

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) vs. PTSD in Veterans

America’s Veterans can develop serious injuries or conditions due to their time in the service. While many Veterans know that they can acquire disability benefits for PTSD, they may be unsure about whether acute stress disorder (ASD) qualifies them for compensation as well.

This page will break down the differences between acute stress disorder vs. PTSD in Veterans and explore the compensation you can expect if you receive a service connection for either condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder is a psychiatric condition closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Acute stress disorder is characterized by symptoms such as severe anxiety, hypervigilance, difficulty sleeping, and dissociation, meaning a distinct sense of detachment from oneself. 

Those who have ASD may also experience nightmares or flashback episodes. In this way, ASD shares many of the symptoms of PTSD.

Depending on the severity of one’s acute stress disorder, ASD can be somewhat manageable or debilitating. In any case, acute stress disorder must be managed with therapy and sometimes medication.

Acute stress disorder can be caused or aggravated by many of the same traumatic stressors that cause or aggravate PTSD in Veterans. These can include combat events, witnessing a friend’s or fellow servicemember’s death, being severely injured while in the service, and more. 

This mental health condition can also be caused or aggravated by traumatic experiences in the civilian world, such as natural disasters, sexual assault, or the death of a family member.

What Is PTSD in Veterans?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition or “mental illness” similar to ASD, yet it is not the same psychiatric condition. PTSD is a broader, more comprehensive psychological condition that may be characterized by symptoms that aren’t based on fear, such as risky or destructive behavior, personality changes, negative assumptions about the world, negative moods, feelings of isolation, and disinterest in activities.

PTSD may further be associated with depressive or anxious feelings that don’t go away. Veterans may acquire PTSD after viewing or being a part of any traumatic event, like a battle or witnessing the death of a fellow servicemember.

In the eyes of the VA, ASD is a strong predictor for the development of PTSD in the future. In other words, if you or a loved one develops acute stress disorder, they will likely develop post-traumatic stress disorder sometime later.

ASD diagnoses are only considered three days to one month after a traumatic event. If a Veteran continues to experience post-traumatic symptoms after a month, the VA frequently assesses that Veteran for PTSD.

You could still develop PTSD even if you never develop ASD and vice versa. But it’s important to understand that these psychiatric conditions are closely connected and related to many individuals.

PTSD and ASD correlate with anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, and other conditions. Dealing with these disorders in the aftermath of trauma may require cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Other avenues include exposure therapy, medication, or other healthcare treatment options. They also lead to a higher likelihood of substance abuse as a means of coping with negative thoughts.

What Are the Differences Between Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD?

One of the biggest differences between ASD and PTSD is the greater emphasis on dissociative symptoms for ASD. 

Dissociation is defined as being out of consciousness either fully or partially. Dissociative symptoms include; 

  • Temporary dissociative amnesia
  • Depersonalization, in which the person detaches from the traumatizing incident)
  • Derealization, in which the person detaches from the environment they are living in). 

An ASD diagnosis requires a person to experience three symptoms of dissociation (e.g., numbing, reduced awareness, depersonalization, derealization, or amnesia). A PTSD diagnosis does not include a dissociative symptom cluster.

PTSD can be triggered by several factors that cause Veterans to remember the initial incident, such as sounds, smells, places, and people. Symptoms may come and go for days, months, or up to a year. 

Some symptoms ascend or descend in severity in a period. It is vital to keep track of how long you feel off. If you experience symptoms of ASD for over a month, you likely develop PTSD. 

While there is no cure for PTSD, you can treat it over time through family support, psychotherapy, and certain medications, like antidepressants. Prolonging PTSD treatment will only bring more physiological problems to many people, so if you are on the fence about getting effective treatment, the sooner you do, the better.

What Are Additional Differences Between ASD and PTSD?

There are many other differences between acute stress disorder and PTSD. These differences include:

  • ASD symptoms aren’t usually classified in clusters, so diagnoses are based on the total number of symptoms. PTSD diagnoses require that Veterans meet certain symptoms within established symptom clusters
  • ASD symptoms are entirely fear-based. PTSD symptoms are not entirely fear-based, so they can include things like hyperarousal or other mental health disorder side effects
  • PTSD symptoms are often more severe regarding changes in cognition or mood. ASD symptoms are not as severe in these respects, though they can still be severe in their own ways

Furthermore, both of these conditions differ in terms of how they are commonly treated. Usually, antidepressant medications and short-term psychotherapy may be used to address ASD. Long-term solutions or methods, such as psychotherapy, medication, and EMDR therapy, are often used for PTSD symptoms.

Neither ASD nor PTSD is “worse” or “easier” than the other. They can both be very severe for Veterans with these conditions, and they often deserve compensation from the VA. Both are recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

If you don’t experience ASD in the first month after an event, you may never develop it.

Can You Receive Benefits for ASD and PTSD?

The VA may provide Veterans with disability benefits for both ASD and PTSD. However, because of how ASD often “transitions” into PTSD, most Veterans receive disability benefits for PTSD since their symptoms last for longer than one month.

The VA categorizes PTSD, ASD, and other mental disorders according to the 4.130 Schedule of Ratings, assigning them diagnostic codes such as 9410 or 9411. The VA rates such mental disorders based on the severity of their symptoms, resulting in ratings ranging from 0% to 100%.

  • 0% rating if you are diagnosed with a mental condition, but the symptoms are not very severe and don’t interfere with social or occupational functioning
  • 10% rating if you have mild or transient occupational and social impairment because of your symptoms, especially if they decrease work efficiency
  • 30% rating if you experience occasional occupational and social impairment and a decrease in work efficiency. Common symptoms include depressed mood, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.
  • 50% rating for more common social and occupational impairment with reduced productivity and reliability at work. Common symptoms include impairment of long and short-term memory, impaired judgment, disturbances of motivation and mood, etc.
  • 70% rating for severe deficiencies in occupational and social functionality, as well as more serious symptoms like spatial disorientation, impaired impulse control, difficulty adapting distress, etc.
  • 100% rating for total social and/or occupational impairment because of severe symptoms like danger of hurting oneself, inappropriate behavior, memory loss, and disorientation of time and place

Secondary Connections for PTSD or ASD

You may receive disability benefits for PTSD or ASD if they are secondarily connected to a primary service-connected injury or disability.

For example, if you develop PTSD because of an amputated limb, the amputated limb may receive a primary service connection, and you’ll receive disability benefits for that amputation. However, you may also qualify for secondary connection PTSD disability benefits, as you may not have developed PTSD without amputation.

In this way, don’t feel as though you don’t have grounds to recover additional benefits if you already receive disability compensation from the VA. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may qualify for more benefits and greater financial stability.

Proving Your ASD and/or PTSD

Proving that you have PTSD or ASD can be difficult due to the mental nature of both conditions. However, it is possible, especially with knowledgeable attorneys helping you throughout the process.

For example, you’ll need to file a claim for disability benefits and collect supplementary evidence that substantiates your claim. Good evidence includes:

  • Lay statements from people who witnessed the traumatic stressor that you believe began your PTSD or ASD symptoms
  • Medical evidence, such as documentation proving you were diagnosed with ASD or PTSD
  • Additional supplementary information, like journal entries from you that explain your feelings and emotions

This information can be collected and submitted to the VA for a comprehensive, persuasive claim. If your claim is denied, attorneys can help you appeal that decision, so you get the benefits you deserve.

Contact Berry Law Today

As a disabled Veteran, if you have ASD or PTSD from your time in the military, you may be entitled to compensation. Furthermore, if you develop either of those psychiatric conditions because of a service-connected disability or injury, you may also be entitled to disability benefits from the VA.

Berry Law can help you acquire those benefits and understand the process from start to finish. 

Our experienced attorneys can break down your options, help you file a claim for disability benefits, or help you appeal a denied claim for benefits if you’ve already contacted the VA. Contact us today for more information and a free consultation.


Acute Stress Disorder – PTSD |

38 CFR § 4.130 – Schedule of ratings – Mental disorders. | Cornell

Types Of VA Disability Claims And When To File | Veterans Affairs

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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