We’ve been looking at the requirements for a PTSD claim of an in-service stressor. We know that generally, you need evidence to corroborate your stressor, but that there are certain situations where it is easier. The first situation we looked at was when a veteran is diagnosed with PTSD in service. The second type of stressor we looked at was for veterans who were in combat. Today we will talk about stressors related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity.
An in-service stressor has to be corroborated. The general rule is that the VA will not accept your statement as proof that the in-service stressor occurred. But because this often proves very difficult, the VA has provided certain situations or exceptions, where the VA will accept the veteran’s statement as sufficient proof of the stressor.
Stressor Related to Fear of Hostile Military or Terrorist Activity
In July 2010, the VA changed the rules to make it easier for veterans to establish an in-service stressor by eliminating the requirement for corroborating evidence. This applies to cases where a VA psychiatrist/psychologist has diagnosed PTSD and the stressor “is related to the veteran’s fear of hostile military or terrorist activity.” The VA did this because they recognized that there is scientific research relating PTSD to exposure to the inherently stressful nature of places, types, and circumstances of service in which fear of hostile military or terrorist activities is ongoing. The studies showed that veterans had mental and physical health effects from stressors related to deployment to a war zone even though they did not personally participate in combat.
Here is what you will need to qualify for this:
- Your stressor is related to your fear of hostile military or terrorist activity (we will talk about what this means below)
- A VA psychiatrist or psychologist, or a psychiatrist/psychologist that is contracted by the VA
- They need to confirm that your stressor is adequate to support a diagnosis of PTSD
- They need to confirm that your symptoms are related to the claimed stressor
- The stressor has to be consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of your service
- There should be no clear and convincing evidence to the contrary
If you meet these requirements, then your lay testimony or statement, alone may establish the occurrence of your in-service stressor.
Fear of hostile military or terrorist activity means:
- You experienced, witnessed, or were confronted with an event or circumstance that involved
- actual or threatened death or serious injury, or
- a threat to your physical integrity or someone else’s, and
- Your response to the event or circumstance involved a psychological or psycho-physiological state of fear, helplessness, or horror.
Some examples would be the threat of an actual or potential improvised explosive device; a vehicle-embedded explosive device; incoming artillery; rocket or mortar fire; grenade; small arms fire, including suspected sniper fire; or attack upon friendly military aircraft.
The regulation applies to all veterans who experienced “fear of hostile military or terrorist activity” regardless of where they were when they experienced this fear. It applies to veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and any other veteran who served during any period of time in any location, they don’t have to have served in a combat zone. What “fear of hostile military or terrorist activity” doesn’t include is sexual assault or hostile criminal actions of US military personnel directed against other US military personnel.
This regulation only applies to claims that were received after July 13, 2010, or were pending at that time. If the claim that led to the award of service connection for PTSD was pending on July 13, 2010, then the benefits that are awarded are given an effective date of the date the claim was received, even if it was before July 13, 2010. But claims that were denied before July 13, 2010, will not be reopened or readjudicated without new and material evidence to reopen it. The VA, however, will accept a veteran’s statement regarding an in-service stressor as new and material evidence for the purpose of reopening a previously denied claim, if the veteran’s records show service in a location involving exposure to hostile military or terrorist activity.
This regulation should help many veterans establish their claim for service connection for PTSD.