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Top 10 PTSD Stressors

Posted by Berry Law on June 14, 2022 in PTSD

PTSD or posttraumatic stress disorder is a chronic mental health condition frequently triggered by one or more traumatizing events. Those with PTSD don’t necessarily need to experience the event in question; even witnessing a traumatic event is sometimes enough to cause PTSD symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in mood or thinking patterns
  • Physical and emotional reactions or changes, such as difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, angry outbursts, and more
  • Nightmares
  • Reenacting of traumatic aspects or events
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Depression or anxiety

PTSD is ultimately different for every person who experiences it. However, Veterans should understand the top 10 PTSD stressors to know when they should approach the VA for benefits related to their condition.

1. Combat Exposure

Combat exposure is one of the most common PTSD stressors, especially for Veterans who saw or participated in active duty or combat environments or events. Combat exposure can include:

  • Being present during battle
  • Firing a weapon at another person
  • Killing another individual
  • Friendly fire incidents
  • Being shot out or attacked by another person

Combat is a harrowing experience regardless of the training one receives beforehand. Many Veterans may feel they should not experience PTSD because of their training, but they should recognize how normal it is to develop PTSD anyway.

Veterans should not be ashamed of developing PTSD because of combat exposure. Instead, they should seek out therapy and other remedial resources or benefits.

2. Sexual Violence or Abuse

Sexual violence or abuse, including sexual assault, rape, or inappropriate touching, can also lead to PTSD and similar symptoms. This can occur in the military or civilian life to both men and women. However, according to some studies, women are at a higher likelihood of suffering sexual violence or abuse than men.

Regardless, Veterans traumatized by sexual violence or abuse may develop PTSD as a result. VA benefits and therapy resources may help Veterans overcome their trauma and lead happy, healthy lives.

3. Physical Assault

Physical assaults, such as muggings, beatings, and other physical violence inflicted upon a person may lead to PTSD. These physical assaults occur outside of combat scenarios. They can include fights with other military personnel, fights in the civilian world, or other circumstances.

Physical assaults may be traumatizing because they represent damage or danger to one’s personal body and autonomy. This can threaten an individual’s sense of self or protection, leading them to develop paranoia or depression alongside other PTSD symptoms.

4. Childhood Assault or Abuse

Many PTSD conditions stem from childhood assault or abuse, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Childhood is a particularly vulnerable time both physically and mentally, so any injuries suffered during childhood may have a greater than average likelihood of PTSD than if the Veteran sustained the injuries during adulthood.

PTSD can develop slowly, and some individuals may not even realize they have PTSD because of a childhood incident until they speak with a therapist.

5. Threatened With a Weapon

Like physical assaults, being threatened with a weapon like a gun, knife, or any other harmful implement may lead to PTSD symptoms. Being threatened with a weapon may damage or destroy one’s sense of self-protection, autonomy, or bodily wellness.

Even if the weapon is not used, a Veteran may develop PTSD symptoms. Those who develop PTSD after being threatened with a weapon during a robbery, mugging, or another incident should never feel ashamed of their symptoms and should instead seek out professional help.

6. Accidents

Accidents, including car accidents or similar scenarios, may lead to PTSD symptoms. Such accidents can make a person feel more mortal or vulnerable than before.

7. Natural Disasters

Natural disasters including fires, earthquakes, floods, and other major catastrophes may lead to PTSD symptoms, particularly related to the weather. 

For example, a Veteran who experiences a tornado at home may feel uneasy or experience other PTSD symptoms when clouds darken or when a tornado warning is announced.

8. Plane Crashes

Many people are already afraid of flying. Those who experience a plane crash may develop PTSD symptoms during flight or related to aircraft in general. For example, they may experience anxiety upon seeing an airport or boarding a plane.

It is also possible to develop secondhand PTSD from seeing a plane crash. Many people developed PTSD symptoms after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, even though they were on the ground and were not directly injured by the event.

9. Medical Diagnoses

Certain medical diagnoses, such as news of cancer or being told that one has a limited time left to live, may cause PTSD symptoms to appear. Furthermore, certain medical procedures, such as surgeries, medication, treatments like chemotherapy, and other medical elements could cause PTSD, especially if the victim has a negative experience in conjunction with the treatment or procedure in question.

Furthermore, Veterans may develop medical-related PTSD when being treated for injuries sustained during their service.

10. Kidnapping

Kidnapping may lead to PTSD symptoms similar to physical assault or being threatened with a weapon. Kidnapping can be harmful, dangerous, and traumatizing regardless of whether one is a child or adult, man or woman.

PTSD Stressors vs. Triggers

As you can see, there are many common PTSD stressors that Veterans and other Americans may experience throughout their lives. However, when you apply for benefits for your PTSD symptoms, you need to understand the difference between PTSD stressors and triggers.

PTSD stressors are the events or circumstances that cause PTSD symptoms. On the other hand, PTSD triggers are experiences, events, or signals that may remind a victim of PTSD of the traumatic event in some way, either consciously or unconsciously.

For example, a Veteran with PTSD from combat experience may have a PTSD trigger upon hearing a gunshot at a shooting range. The gunshot causes physical symptoms like shakiness, sweating, dizziness, and more.

PTSD triggers are not controllable and can include sights, smells, sounds, thoughts, phrases, locations, objects, and more. Even people can trigger PTSD symptoms depending on the stressor that caused the condition in the first place.

Identifying Your PTSD Stressor

For many Veterans, it can be challenging to identify noncombat PTSD stressors. Some Veterans believe that PTSD stressors can only arise from combat conditions or similar circumstances.

However, any therapist will tell you that PTSD can arise from many different potential causes or events. Speaking to a therapist about your combat or noncombat traumatic experiences could help you determine the root causes or triggers for your PTSD symptoms.

Furthermore, a therapist will help you confirm your PTSD stressor so you can identify it and take steps to eliminate its influence in your life.

Is PTSD Covered by VA Benefits?

Yes, but only if the PTSD was caused by certain stressors. To acquire VA benefits for your PTSD symptoms, your stressor must be at least one of the following and must have been experienced during your active service:

  • Being threatened with death, either in combat or outside 
  • Exposure to death, such as the death of a comrade or enemy combatant
  • Threatened or actual serious injury
  • Threatened or actual sexual violence

These main stressor categories must also be proven when applying for VA disability benefits. Veterans applying for disability benefits for their PTSD must specifically show that the stressor created a notable change in their life. Notable changes can include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as sweating, nightmares, etc. It’s often helpful to have a doctor’s note or recommendation when applying for disability benefits for PTSD.
  • Emotional symptoms, such as a lack of sociability or personality changes. Testimony from friends or family members may assist when proving emotional symptoms.
  • Mental health symptoms, such as the development of personality disorders or other mental health conditions like depression. Again, the testimony or official note from a licensed therapist can go a long way toward proving your symptoms are severe and real. 


Overall, Veterans can develop PTSD for several valid reasons. Fortunately, with the right proof and the right testimony, it’s possible to receive disability benefits for your PTSD symptoms to help you pay for medication, therapy, or other treatments that may help you recover your quality of life.

Berry Law is well equipped and ready to assist with your VA disability benefits claim for your PTSD condition and related symptoms. We have many years of experience helping Veterans just like you, so give us a call and let us give you a free consultation and more information. 


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