PTSD vs. Anxiety: The Ultimate Veteran’s Guide

PTSD vs. Anxiety: The Ultimate Veteran’s Guide

Hundreds of thousands of veterans return from active duty every year with one or more serious injuries or mental health conditions. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety are two of the most common problems experienced by America’s veterans. Unfortunately, these issues can be difficult to detect, diagnose, and treat.

Today, we compare PTSD and anxiety, including a detailed exploration of their symptoms, causes, and the VA ratings you may receive when you apply for disability benefits. 

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that may occur in individuals who experience one or more traumatic events.

PTSD is “triggered” by one or more stressors, which are traumatic events including but not limited to:

  • Experiencing an accident
  • Being sexually assaulted
  • Experiencing the death of another person
  • Being severely injured

For example, an American veteran may see one of their fellow service members die in combat, then develop PTSD. They may experience a severe injury from an accident that occurred in the service and develop PTSD because of it.

PTSD can be very dangerous and difficult to deal with. Common PTSD symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling afraid or frightened, particularly of things that remind the affected individual of the stressor event (e.g., feeling scared when you hear jet engines since they remind you of aircraft and your time in the military)
  • Anxiety or anxious symptoms, like not being able to calm down or relax
  • Antisocial behaviors
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping 
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Depression
  • Mood changes, like angry outbursts or self-destructive attitudes
  • Suicidal ideation

PTSD does not occur to everyone who experiences a traumatic event; it affects everyone differently. Thus, it can be difficult to diagnose or determine whether you have PTSD, especially if you experienced a specific traumatic event with others who do not appear to have been negatively affected.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is another psychiatric condition characterized by anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Anxiety is a normal human emotion from time to time, such as before taking a test or meeting an important person.

In comparison, anxiety disorders are long-acting and difficult to control. They include symptoms like:

  • Difficulty concentrating on the task at hand since you are concentrating on anxious subjects
  • Fearful or avoidant behavior
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Concerns or excessive worry
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea

You may have anxiety if you cannot calm down, even in relaxed situations. For instance, you may be constantly worried or looking at the clock because you fear being late for a social event beyond normal.

Like PTSD, anxiety can be difficult to diagnose. Anxiety may be caused by repeated exposure to stressors or events you experienced in the military, such as combat, abusive supervisors, etc.

PTSD and anxiety are often related, although they do not need to be. For example, a Veteran can experience only PTSD or only anxiety.

However, anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder may feel anxious or nervous about events, people, or settings, displaying anxious symptoms. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a veteran with PTSD to receive a secondary diagnosis for anxiety or depression (another common side effect of PTSD).

In this way, anxiety may be considered a comorbidity for PTSD. If you have PTSD, you are more likely to develop anxiety and/or depression, though this is not guaranteed. Furthermore, you may feel anxiety symptoms but not be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder – it depends on your mental health care practitioner’s philosophies and your specific symptoms.

What Are VA Ratings for PTSD?

The VA may award you a disability rating for PTSD and/or anxiety, depending on the circumstances of your case and whether you had either of these conditions before your service.

The VA rates PTSD according to Diagnostic Code 9411 on the Schedule of Ratings for Mental Disorders. Based on your symptoms and the level of disability your PTSD causes, you may receive a disability rating between 0% to 100%. 

PTSD ratings may be assigned as follows:

  • 0% rating if you have a diagnosis of PTSD but no formal symptoms that interfere with your social or occupational functioning
  • 10% rating if you have occasional social and/or occupational impairment with mild and/or transient symptoms
  • 30% rating if you have social and/or occupational impairment with decreased work efficiency, intermittent periods of inability to perform tasks, and symptoms like depressed mood, anxiety, or panic attacks.
  • 50% rating if you have more serious symptoms and occupational and social impairment, like impaired judgment, panic attacks more than once per week, or difficulty understanding complex commands.
  • 70% rating if you have serious symptoms and social and occupational impairment. Symptoms may include spatial disorientation, obsession with rituals, or suicidal ideation.
  • 100% rating if you experience total social and occupational impairment because of your symptoms, like inappropriate behavior, danger of hurting yourself or others, or disorientation in time or place.

What Are VA Ratings for Anxiety?

The VA assigns disability ratings for veterans with anxiety depending on their specific symptoms and their diagnosed disorders. For instance, if you are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, your Diagnostic Code will be 9400. Meanwhile, veterans with another specified anxiety disorder receive Diagnostic Code 9410.

Like PTSD, ratings for anxiety range from 0% to 100%, with ratings of 10%, 30%, 50%, and 70%.

  • 10% rating if you have mild symptoms but they are managed by medication
  • 30% rating if you function regularly but experience mild to moderate symptoms like anxiety, suspiciousness, or trouble sleeping.
  • 50% rating if you have serious symptoms and regular impairment of work and social situations. Symptoms may include panic attacks more than once per week, trouble with abstract thinking, or disturbances of motivation and mood.
  • 70% rating if you have serious anxiety-related symptoms and impairment in most areas, like work and school. Symptoms may include suicidal ideation, impaired impulse control, and continuous panic or depression.
  • 100% rating if you are totally disabled; your symptoms include persistent delusions or hallucinations, danger of hurting yourself and others, or disorientation to time and place.

What Are the Combined Ratings for PTSD and Anxiety?

Because anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD, veterans may qualify for a combined rating if their anxiety symptoms are serious enough. If they receive a diagnosis of PTSD, then receive a diagnosis of anxiety disorder or a related disorder, they may receive a combined rating from the VA.

If your PTSD and anxiety are determined to be separate with distinct identifiable symptoms, you could receive a separate rating for both. You may also receive direct service connection for your PTSD and anxiety disorder. 

However, if your PTSD causes your anxiety, you’ll need to pursue secondary service connection for the anxiety to recover additional disability benefits.

How Can You Receive Secondary Service Connection for Anxiety?

Secondary service connection is a service-related disability connection for an injury or illness due to a direct service-connected disability.

For example, say you develop PTSD because of your time in the military. You prove this to be the case with a strong disability benefits application, so the VA awards you direct service connection for your post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, you develop anxiety symptoms a few months later. You previously had no anxiety symptoms to speak of. Because of this, you and your psychiatrist are confident that your PTSD caused your anxiety. Since you would not have the anxious symptoms if you didn’t develop PTSD or serve in the military, the anxiety is secondarily service-connected.

It can be difficult to receive secondary service connection for anxiety. But knowledgeable veterans law attorneys may be able to help. They can assist with filing a new benefits application or appealing your current rating to increase your total benefits.

Contact Berry Law Today

Both PTSD and anxiety can be debilitating and life-changing. If you or a loved one have PTSD and/or anxiety, it’s important to know that you may qualify for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Berry Law can assist throughout this process. Our knowledgeable attorneys can help you file a claim for disability benefits, whether you are applying for direct service connection or secondary connection for your anxiety from PTSD. 

Our lawyers can also assist with appealing for a new rating or appealing a denied claim. Contact us today to learn more.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder | NIMH 

Types of VA disability claims and when to file |

National Center for PTSD | 

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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