Stressor Letter for PTSD VA Claims
In filing a claim with the VA compensation for PTSD, every bit of evidence can help. One such item is a Stressor Letter. This is a letter from you listing all the stressors that you feel contributed to your PTSD. This letter will likely be the hardest thing you have ever had to write in your life and potentially the most important asset in your claim.
There are three components to a stressor letter. Life before the military, life during the military (this is generally where your stressors will be detailed) and life after the military (where you will describe how PTSD has altered and effected your life. I’m going to describe to you how I wrote mine. My stressor letter ended up being eleven pages long and took me several days to complete.
The first stage is to write out your ‘Before the Military’ section. Begin by describing how you grew up, activities in which you took part and enjoyed. Anything that can serve as a contrast to the ‘After the Military’ section needs to be listed here. What did you enjoy doing before that you are no longer able to do? What was your outlook on life then that PTSD has changed? You will likely find as you work on the rest of the letter that you think of more items to include in the ‘Before’ section. You’re basically trying to give a snapshot of what you were like before your stressors occurred.
The hardest part of the letter is the stressor section. The ‘During the Military’ section will not be easy to write and I suggest doing it in stages. Begin by simply listing a timeline of events. Do not get into all the specifics of each event. Simply create an outline of the events that you feel contributed to your PTSD, include all physical injuries as well. Once this is done, begin to go back through your letter. Select one of the stressors and begin to add details of the event. For right now, only add details, don’t include your reactions. The idea is to get the chronological listing of all the events. Who else was involved, dates, being evacuated for an injury, etc. You’re simply telling the story of what happened. Continue to add this information for all the events listed in your outline. The final step is the hardest. This will be the part that requires you to really dig deep and be completely honest with yourself. No more denial here. Before you begin this section, make sure you have someone you can call on to keep you grounded. This part will hurt and you need to know you have a resource to back you up if you need it. At this point, you need to go through each item and add how it made you FEEL. Let it out! Put it on the paper. Did you feel helpless? Guilty? Were you terrified? Hopeless? This is the hardest part because too often we take all those negative feelings and shove them down deep where we think they can’t bother us anymore, but they need to be documented for this to truly be an asset in your claim. This was the part that took me the longest to complete and was the majority of the eleven pages.
The last step isn’t quite as hard. This is the ‘After’ section. In this part you are simply spelling out how PTSD has changed your life. What is different about you now? What are the symptoms you have to deal with daily? This is a good time to look up the signs and symptoms of PTSD and list out how each one effects your life. Don’t embellish here…keep it honest. If you don’t have nightmares, don’t list them. Not every one has every single symptom of PTSD. Make sure you explore every area of your life. How is it effecting your work? Your family? Your thought process, outlook on life, ability to function in society, etc. List your triggers, the things you can no longer tolerate doing such as walking through a grocery store without anxiety. This is where you show how PTSD has changed who you were before. Refer to your ‘Before’ section and see if there is something you listed that has changed and vice versa. You will find that going through the ‘After’ section, you will remember things to add to the ‘Before’. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself editing both sections as you go along.
Once you have written out your letter and you’re sure you’ve included enough emotional information to get your point across find someone you trust and ask them to read it over. Ask them if its concise, if it makes sense, does it get the point across. Perhaps ask someone from a veterans group to read it, a Veterans Service Officer can likely give you some pointers on how to improve your letter.
Above all, realize that as much as its going to hurt to write this letter, its going to help you in the long run. You can also ask friends and family members to write letters stating how PTSD is effecting your ability to lead a ‘normal’ life. These can also add weight to your claim with the VA. Remember, don’t let yourself get offended by what you may read in these letters. The person writing them needs to be brutally honest about how they see PTSD effecting you and its likely not going to be something you want to hear. They may see something that you don’t, some personality change that you haven’t noticed or have denied. Remember, they aren’t writing these things to hurt you, they’re trying to help you with your claim.
As I said earlier, this will likely be one of the hardest things you’ve had to do, but it will absolutely help your case. With this letter in your file, you don’t have to worry as much about getting a doc who doesn’t believe you writing a bad report for the exam. Your words will already by part of the file along with the letters from friends and family members. The more ammunition you include in your file the better. These letters, along with your doctors reports will give the bureaucrats making rating decisions a better idea of the true picture.
There are many websites giving advice on writing Stressor Letters, what I have provided here is basically a short synopsis of what those sites suggest along with my personal experience writing my own letter.