Qualifications & Criteria for PTSD Disability

Some people with PTSD are unable to work.
Some people with PTSD are unable to work. (Image: sad image by Fenia from Fotolia.com)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops when someone goes through a traumatic experience like sexual assault, child abuse, war or a natural disaster. Symptoms include intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, trouble concentrating, anxiety, hypervigilance, trouble sleeping and self-destructive behavior like drinking excessively or using drugs. People who cannot work due to PTSD might qualify for disability. Social Security provides two types of disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides benefits for some people that have worked a certain amount of time in the past and paid into Social Security. People that haven’t worked enough to qualify for SSDI might qualify for Supplement Security Income (SSI).

What Social Security Looks For

The Social Security Administration looks at three things when determining whether someone qualifies for disability due to PTSD. They look at a person’s symptoms (part A), how those symptoms affect a person (part B) and how well a person functions outside his home (part C). A person must qualify under part A and part B or under part A and part C in order to receive Social Security disability.

Symptoms--Part A

Part A of the decision process involves looking at the symptoms of PTSD a person experiences. A person must have at least one of the following symptoms and it must be documented in her medical records: generalized anxiety along with three out of four symptoms, including motor tension, hyperactivity, excessive feelings of apprehension and hypervigilance; persistent irrational fear of a certain object or activity, causing a person to avoid that object or activity; severe panic attacks that occur at least once a week, on average; recurring obsessions and compulsions that cause marked distress; and recurrent intrusive memories of past trauma that cause marked distress. People with PTSD often experience excessive feelings of apprehension, hypervigilance and intrusive memories of past trauma. A person must have at least one of these symptoms or she cannot receive disability for PTSD.

Effects--Part B

Part B of the decision process involves looking at how the symptoms of PTSD affect a person in his daily life. To qualify for disability, he must meet at least two of the following conditions: significant disruption in his ability to manage activities of daily living, like bathing, cooking, eating, cleaning house and grocery shopping; significant difficulties functioning in social situations; significant difficulties concentrating on things, working at a normal pace or working for a normal length of time; and repeated episodes of severe decompensation, such as needing to be hospitalized for his condition or being unable to work due to his condition for a extended period of time.

Functioning--Part C

If a person does not meet at least two of the conditions in part B, she must qualify under part C or she cannot receive disability for PTSD. Part C involves looking at how a person functions outside her home. To qualify under part C, she must be unable to function independently outside of her home due to her condition.


Social Security provides only long-term disability benefits. A physician must certify that a person will remain unable to work due to PTSD for at least one year before he can qualify for SSDI or SSI. Some states have disability programs that provide short-term disability benefits, but Social Security does not.

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