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Guide to PTSD Stressor Requirements

Guide to PTSD Stressor Requirements

Let’s discuss the requirements for PTSD stressors as they relate to veterans who have experienced a traumatic event during active duty and are at a higher risk of developing PTSD compared to non-veterans. Pursuing a VA disability claim for PTSD is a reasonable course of action, and this post aims to assist in achieving service connection for PTSD


A stressor according to the VA involves exposure to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence.

The exposure can be related to direct exposure, indirect exposure such as learning that a close relative or friend was exposed to trauma, witnessing in-person, or repeated or extreme indirect exposure to details of the event.

For rating purposes, the VA classifies PTSD as either PTSD Combat or PTSD Non-Combat.


  • PTSD can be caused by a variety of events, not just combat-related ones.
  • Trauma can be experienced alone or with others.
  • A stressor can consist of a group of experiences rather than just one event.
  • PTSD can develop at any time after a stressor, even years later.
  • The relationship between the stressor and current symptoms will determine service connection.
  • Symptoms must be clearly related to the military stressor as documented in medical reports.
  • PTSD can be recognizable even after a long period of time has passed.


PTSD Combat Stressors PTSD Non-combat Stressors
Direct combat with enemy forces (e.g. gunfire, explosions, hand-to-hand combat) Serious accidents (e.g. car crash es, industrial accidents)
Witnessing death or serious injury to others in combat Natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes)
Being prisoner of war Sexual assault or harassment (in or out of the military)
Exposure to biological, chemical, or nuclear agents Medical procedures or treatments (e.g. surgeries, chemotherapy)
Close-range exposure to blasts or explosions Witnessing or being a victim of a crime
Repeated exposure to traumatic events during deployment (e.g. multiple firefights, rocket attacks) Sever bullying or hazing (in or out of the military)



Proving your service connected PTSD is essential to obtaining VA disability benefits. The burden of proving the stressor event lies with the veteran seeking service connection for PTSD, and it is crucial to provide sufficient evidence that the event happened to you. The VA has specific rules to assess whether a stressor event needs further verification, but the burden of proof is on the veteran. Obtaining a Buddy Letter from someone who witnessed or experienced the same event is one of the most effective ways to support your PTSD stressor claim. Without such support, the likelihood of being denied service connection for PTSD is high.

If you are unsure about the strength of your PTSD stressor event, it is advisable to explore other avenues to service connect your mental health condition, such as pursuing a VA claim for Depression or Anxiety as a primary disability, especially if you were diagnosed in-service or shortly thereafter. While only PTSD has stressors that must be verified, other mental health conditions do not. Veterans seeking service connection for PTSD must provide sufficient evidence to support their claims.

Stressor verification is crucial in proving your service connected to PTSD. Obtaining a Buddy Letter and exploring alternative avenues to service connect your mental health condition can significantly improve your chances of success. Veterans seeking VA disability benefits for PTSD must provide sufficient evidence to support their claims.

For an example of a Buddy Letter for PTSD, please click HERE.




When a veteran files a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the VA Rater must verify that the claimed stressor event occurred during the veteran’s military service. This is done by looking at multiple sources of evidence, including Primary Evidence and Secondary Evidence.


⇾ PRIMARY EVIDENCE is considered the most reliable source for corroborating in-service stressors and is typically obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) or Department of Defense (DoD) entities. It includes service personnel records, military occupation evidence, military performance reports, and other official documents that provide evidence of the claimed stressor event.



⇾ SECONDARY EVIDENCE includes sources such as Buddy Letters, contemporaneous letters and diaries, and newspaper articles. The VA must review these sources critically and carefully to corroborate the claimed stressor event.

It’s important to note that the JSRRC (Joint Services Records Research Center) is not always reliable for verifying claimed stressor events. Therefore, veterans should provide as much evidence as possible to support their claim, including primary evidence and secondary evidence such as Buddy Letters or personal journals. By providing a variety of sources, veterans can increase their chances of having their claim approved.





If you are a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obtaining a “Buddy Statement” from a fellow veteran can be crucial in establishing the occurrence of a claimed in-service stressor. The VA may accept a buddy statement as corroboration if it is consistent with the time, place, and circumstances of service for both veterans.

Without a buddy letter or other credible supporting evidence, you may face a denial of service-connection for PTSD, particularly if the stressor did not occur in combat.

However, in certain circumstances, a veteran’s lay testimony alone may be enough to establish an in-service stressor for PTSD service-connection. This may be the case if PTSD was diagnosed during service or if the stressor is related to combat or being a former prisoner of war (FPOW). Additionally, if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms the claimed stressor is adequate to support a PTSD diagnosis and the veteran’s symptoms are related to the stressor, lay testimony may be sufficient.

To establish a claimed stressor through lay testimony, the stressor must be consistent with the circumstances, conditions, or hardships of service or places, types, and circumstances of service for claims based on a fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Supporting evidence may include documentation of the veteran’s participation in the event, indication of service in the immediate area and at the time of the event, and a description of the event.

While corroboration of every detail is not necessary, evidence implying personal exposure to the event may be sufficient. Claims processors must evaluate the evidence as a whole to determine if a stressor is sufficiently corroborated.

It is important to note that concession of a stressor event ultimately lies with the rating activity, and the VA may fail in its duty to assist in this regard. Therefore, it is recommended that veterans take control of their own claims and ensure necessary evidence is presented to the VA upfront, rather than relying solely on the VA rater to track down information.

By following these PTSD stressor verification tips, veterans can increase their chances of success in their VA claims journey.


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