Can I Get Disability Benefits After Trauma?

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When you’ve experienced a traumatic event, whether a short-lived accident or chronic trauma, it can be difficult to cope with the normal stressors of life afterward. If you are unable to work at full capacity because of trauma, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits.

For veterans who have been through trauma during their time of service, there are some special considerations. If you are looking for more information on applying for disability income as a veteran, check this article out here.

After experiencing trauma, you may feel some sense of guilt about needing extra financial help. You may feel like you should be able to just “get over” it and lead a normal life.

There is no shame in applying for disability benefits after trauma. Receiving disability benefits does not mean you’re weak or helpless. All it means is that you need some extra financial support while you heal. offers a free online disability case evaluation for those seeking disability benefits. You can fill out our 1-minute survey here, and we’ll put you in touch with one of our case evaluation specialists.

If you’re not sure whether your current situation qualifies you for disability benefits, keep reading.

What is Trauma from a Medical Perspective?

Trauma is a regular part of the human experience. We live in a world filled with natural disasters, violence, and suffering. Bad things happen to good people all the time.

What most people don’t realize is that trauma is not inherent in an event. It is a subjective emotional, psychological, and somatic (or bodily) experience.

Siblings growing up in a household where there is abuse can experience the same situation in completely different ways. One sibling may end up becoming a well-adjusted adult with no apparent signs of trauma, while another sibling may struggle more to cope with the normal stressors of adult life.

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.” According to HelpGuide, such events can be:

  • One-time events: for example, an accident or a violent attack, especially if unexpected or experienced in childhood
  • Chronic stress: this could mean living in an environment ravaged by violence, dealing with a life-threatening illness, or experiencing repeated traumatic events (including bullying, domestic violence, and childhood neglect)
  • Overlooked stressful life events: such as surgery, a close friend or family member’s sudden death, a significant breakup, or a deeply humiliating or disappointing experience

Unfortunately, Social Security only recognizes “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence” together with severe symptoms as meeting their definition of disability.

If you’re unsure whether your trauma fits that definition, it might benefit you to connect with one of the legal professionals on our team for a free online disability case evaluation.

So, what kinds of reactions might someone experience after a traumatic event?

As it turns out, there’s quite a variety of reactions that someone who has experienced trauma can have. None of these reactions is “right” or “wrong,” per se. It is important to keep in mind that the following are all NORMAL reactions to a traumatic event.

Emotional & Psychological Symptoms

  • Initial shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Feeling confused, anxious, or afraid
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Unpredictable emotional reactions, such as angry outbursts
  • Carrying immense guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Isolating oneself
  • Experiencing sadness or despair
  • Feeling a sense of disconnection or emotional numbness

Physical Symptoms

  • Trouble sleeping due to insomnia or nightmares
  • Feeling fatigued even without intense physical exertion
  • Being more easily startled
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Inexplicable aches and pains
  • Muscle tension that has no other physical cause

These symptoms normally last anywhere from a few days to a few months. As you process the traumatic event, the symptoms should resolve on their own.

You may experience troubling memories or emotions from time to time after your symptoms have gone away. However, if your nervous system heals itself in the normal way, you should be able to resume regular day-to-day living.

But what if you can’t move on?

What if you find yourself unable to function after what you’ve been through? This can be a huge source of suffering and hardship, but there is a name for it.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Sometimes, trauma symptoms do not resolve on their own and can become even worse. You may find yourself unable to process the event, and your nervous system gets “stuck,” so to speak, in the trauma response.

In this case, you may be experiencing a condition called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Though PTSD can only be triggered by a traumatic event, not every trauma results in a case of PTSD. Humans, like other mammals, have nervous systems that can normally process trauma if allowed to do so.

But if we’re forced to “keep it together” and just move on from trauma without letting our nervous system discharge the energy of its fight-or-flight response, problems can arise. Specifically, we can develop PTSD.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that knows no partiality. It can affect anyone of any ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, or age.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.”

The American Psychiatric Association groups symptoms of PTSD into four different categories:

  1. Intrusion: This can include memories involuntarily and repeatedly playing in a person’s mind and flashbacks that can be so vivid it feels like they’re re-living the trauma.

  2. Avoidance: Affected persons may avoid people, activities, places, objects, and situations that may trigger distressing memories of their traumatic experience. They may be resistant to talking about what happened or how they feel.

  3. Alterations in cognition and mood: Someone may be unable to remember important aspects of their traumatic experience, find themselves unable to manage negative thoughts and feelings that lead to ongoing distorted beliefs about themselves or others.

    They may experience ongoing feelings of fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame, symptoms of depression, and an inability to experience positive emotions.

  4. Alterations in arousal and reactivity: This can include irritability and proneness to angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behavior, hypervigilance (or excessive watchfulness of one’s surroundings), being easily started, or having difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

If you’re experiencing these kinds of symptoms severely enough to impair your day-to-day life, you may have PTSD. The first step to healing and hopefully getting the financial assistance you need is to get a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional and find treatment.

Why Do I Need a Diagnosis and Medical Treatment to Get Disability Benefits?

It’s true that having a traumatic experience can make it very hard to ask for help. The world seems like a dark and dangerous place, filled with people who can’t be trusted. Trusting even a professional who makes it their business to help struggling people seems like a huge and scary leap of faith.

But the truth of getting government assistance, for better or for worse, is that you need to provide documentation for just about everything. Social Security does not accept self-diagnoses of psychiatric disorders.

In order for Social Security to establish that your condition meets their definition of disability, they need documented evidence. Part of what they require is official medical documentation that shows you’ve been given a diagnosis and have been receiving treatment.

Specifically, in Social Security’s own words, they need to see medical documentation of all the following:

  1. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence;
  2. Subsequent involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event (for example, intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks);
  3. Avoidance of external reminders of the event;
  4. Disturbance in mood and behavior; and
  5. Increases in arousal and reactivity (for example, exaggerated startle response, sleep disturbance)

If you do not have this medical documentation for PTSD, your disability claim application will be denied.

If you have not yet been diagnosed or haven’t received treatment for unprocessed trauma, the next step is to find a psychiatrist who can assess your symptoms.

You can find counselors and psychiatrists near your location on Psychology Today’s website. Psychology Today gives teletherapy options as well. You may also want to check with your health insurance to find providers who are in-network and close to your location.

Once you’ve gotten a diagnosis and started treatment, you can focus on the financial side of your situation.

Does Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Prevent You from Working?

Posttraumatic stress disorder may prevent you from engaging in regular work activities, but sometimes a person with PTSD can still work in a limited capacity.

One of the key terms to understand when applying for disability benefits is “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. Basically, this means working enough to pay for all your basic living expenses, like rent, gas, groceries, and necessary medical bills.

Social Security designed its disability benefits programs for people who are unable to engage in SGA. It is meant to help those who truly cannot work enough to pay for their basic living expenses.

This is important to know for someone struggling with PTSD. Even if you are still able to do some work while living with the disorder, you may not be engaged in SGA. What this means is that you are most likely eligible to receive disability benefits.

This is especially true if your PTSD impacts your ability to:

  1. Understand, remember, and/or apply information
  2. Interact with others
  3. Concentrate, persist in a task, or maintain pace in a task
  4. Adapt to normal stressors or manage yourself

If you have a long enough and recent enough employment history in which you were paying Social Security taxes on your earnings, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

But if you don’t have that kind of work history, don’t be discouraged. You may be eligible to apply for disability income or Social Security Income (SSI), especially if you have little income and resources.

Should You Get Disability Benefits Assistance?

There is one core fact about applying for disability benefits, and it’s this:

Social Security wants you to build a compelling case for why they should approve you to receive disability benefits.

What the disability claim application requires you to do is gather information about your identity, medical condition, and work history so that you can make a case for yourself.

When you a struggling with PTSD, the feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and confusion you may already feel on a regular basis can be compounded by an attempt to apply for disability benefits. It may be difficult to even determine whether you qualify.

The good news is that you don’t have to go through the application process alone.

At, we connect you to caring legal professionals who provide a free online disability benefits case evaluation. You do not have to pay a retainer or document fees for the evaluation. It really is free.

Once your case evaluation specialist has determined that you are eligible to receive disability benefits, you can hire them to assist you with the application process if you choose.

The legal professionals on our team are experienced in building disability cases that lead to favorable decisions from Social Security. By hiring a disability benefits attorney, you increase the likelihood of an approval.

To start the process for getting an online disability case evaluation, take this 1-minute survey and provide your contact information. Someone from our team will be in touch with you.

We have made it our mission to help those who need and deserve government assistance. We would be honored to help you get the financial help that you need.

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