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Vocational Implications of PTSD

PDF Version for print, click here At CRC Services, LLC, one of the most sensitive areas of vocational service we provide involves working with US veterans who are seeking a TDIU (Total Disability Individual Unemployability) rating. Service-connected disabilities, as well as the onset of related symptoms vary, affecting veterans at multiple life stages. As vocational experts, we work directly with veterans and claims advocates to shed light on the vocational factors that have a profound effect on employability.

Prevalence of PTSD among veterans

PTSD is a markedly disabling condition affecting a significant percentage of our nation’s veterans. According to the National Center for PTSD (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), at least 11-30% of veterans suffer from PTSD. During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), approximately 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans were diagnosed with PTSD, while approximately 12 out of every 100 Gulf War veterans suffered from the condition. The number of Vietnam War veterans who have experienced PTSD in their lifetimes is estimated to be as high as 30 out of 100.[1]

Moreover, the National Center for PTSD[2] (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) reports that symptoms of PTSD may increase with age for a variety of reasons. These reasons can include:

- retiring from work, having more time to think, fewer distractions from memories - medical problems, decreased strength - current events (i.e., news reports or television programming) that trigger bad memories - discontinuance of former coping strategies (alcohol/ drugs), lack of alternate coping mechanisms

PTSD impact on employment

The impact of PTSD on employment can be quite profound. In a 02/27/2020 article in VA News, it was noted that approximately 60% of veterans entering PTSD treatment programs are unemployed.[3] Veterans with this condition can experience significant challenges when returning to work, including concentration issues, coping with workday stressors, difficulties with interpersonal interactions, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

Though concentration is crucial to completing work tasks, it can be difficult or even impossible for individuals with PTSD to concentrate due to the prevalence of thoughts, memories, hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, hyperarousal, and other related symptoms. Difficulty concentrating on work tasks translates into increased time spent off-task and an inability to perform the essential duties of a job on a consistent basis. As it interferes with a person’s ability to meet minimum production expectations, employers will only tolerate a certain, minimal amount of time off-task before the employee is deemed inefficient and unproductive.

Common stressors in the workplace may also present challenges to veterans with PTSD as they may be unable to cope and adapt to changes during the workday. Employers expect employees to be able to tolerate basic daily stresses and minor changes to their work tasks or processes without needing additional reminders, redirection, or reinstruction to complete work. A person who experiences symptoms of PTSD would likely struggle to tolerate ordinary work-related challenges without needing additional support, which is generally not offered in competitive employment, outside a protected work environment.

Persons with PTSD can also have difficulty interacting with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. They may exhibit difficulty managing emotions, isolation from others, and have outbursts of emotion and/or anger. Employees are expected to appropriately interact and communicate with supervisors and coworkers in order to maintain a professional and productive work environment. Competitive employment does not allow an employee to work in total isolation. Even work that is generally performed independently requires some minimal degree of interaction with supervisors and coworkers. Many veterans with PTSD symptoms experience increased irritability, anger, agitation, and difficulty controlling emotions with a greater potential for unacceptable interactions in the workplace.

Furthermore, employees with PTSD experience panic attacks or anxiety that require them to take more frequent breaks to gather themselves and/or recover from the emotional upheaval they have experienced. Employees are usually afforded a certain number of breaks throughout the workday but unscheduled or additional breaks to recover from a panic attack or regain one’s composure are not tolerated by employers.

Sleep disturbances and somnolence also contribute to a veteran’s inability to concentrate, focus, and remain on task. People with PTSD may struggle to meet employers’ attendance expectations and be more prone to being absent, tardy, or requiring to leave work early. Employers in the national labor market will only tolerate a certain number of absences per month/year and frequent occurrences are not tolerated.

Challenges faced by veterans with PTSD are considerable. CRC Services’ Vocational Counselors standby to assist you in explaining the vocational impact of PTSD on a veteran’s employability and why these types of behaviors would be problematic in the workplace. As vocational experts, we are uniquely qualified to make these arguments to help strengthen your disability claim.

If you would like to learn more about our services and expert opinion reports for a veteran you represent, please reach out to CRC Services’ TDIU Supervisor, Tricia Muth, CRC at or 413-437-5104


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