Unfortunately, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common psychological condition suffered by military service members and veterans. They may not recognize or understand their symptoms immediately. Some common indicators of PTSD include sharp mood swings, flashbacks of traumatic events, and problems with following instructions or orders. This can result in Article 15 discipline or more serious sanctions, especially if a service member starts abusing alcohol or drugs to deal with their PTSD. They may ultimately leave the military with a dishonorable discharge, which prevents them from getting VA benefits.
Some service members feel reluctant to admit that they have PTSD or get help for their symptoms. They may worry that they will be forced to leave the military or that they will face a stigma if they stay in the armed forces. You will not lose your security clearance if you have a PTSD diagnosis. In fact, taking active steps to get treatment and address your condition can help you keep your security clearance and preserve your military career.
Advantages of a PTSD Diagnosis
If you are diagnosed with PTSD while you are still serving in the military, this can protect your access to health care and disability benefits. Documentation of your condition will show that it was connected to your service, which is essential to proving your eligibility for benefits. It also can establish the effective date for your eligibility. If you apply for benefits within one year of your discharge, the effective date is the date of your discharge as long as you have evidence that you suffered from your disability on that date. Otherwise, it will be the date of your application for disability benefits, which could be much later.
A PTSD diagnosis also can shield a service member from a denial of benefits based on their willful misconduct. Sometimes a service member will be injured because of misconduct that was not actually “willful” because it resulted from their PTSD. Willful misconduct serves as a basis for denying benefits to a veteran who is otherwise eligible, so defeating the willfulness element can make a huge difference.
A service member who is suffering from severe PTSD may want to ask for a disability discharge because of their condition. They cannot apply for a discharge directly, but they can ask their military doctor to recommend a disability discharge. The doctor would need to find that their PTSD substantially impairs the service member’s ability to perform their duties.
Medical Examinations for PTSD
You should make sure to ask for a medical exam as soon as you suspect that you may have PTSD, rather than waiting until you are in danger of a negative discharge. A service member has a right to a medical evaluation for PTSD before they can be forced to leave the military with a dishonorable discharge. While you should be honest with the military doctor who conducts the exam, you should be aware that the doctor does not have a duty of confidentiality toward you. They may divulge any other information that you reveal that may expose you to a dishonorable discharge on another basis, such as substance abuse or criminal conduct.
PTSD and Sexual Trauma
Some service members suffer from PTSD due to a sexual assault or harassment. They may feel uncomfortable getting treatment in the military for the resulting trauma, but they can get treatment from a private medical provider if they prefer. Service members who report sexual misconduct in the military often face retaliation, such as a negative type of discharge that does not allow them to receive benefits. This can make it especially critical to establish documentation of the sexual trauma. You should make sure to keep these records so that you can submit them in an application for a military discharge upgrade if needed. (Read more here about applying for a discharge upgrade.)