In general, exposure to stressors can take three forms. The first is engagement in combat operations while on active duty, the second is non combat experiences such as plane crashes, an automobile accident or other non-combat traumas, and the third is personal/sexual assault.
Establishing exposure to stressors is accomplished in one of two ways. First, is the receipt of awards/decorations while on active duty which confirm engagement in combat operations while on active duty. Such things as a Combat Infantry Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, Purple Heart, Silver Star, and Bronze Star with V Device can confirm the veteran was exposed to combat operations. If you have received one of these awards/decorations the VA considers your exposure to stressors confirmed and no further action is necessary by the VA or you to establish the stressor element of the claim for PTSD.
If you did not receive one of the awards/decorations confirming engagement in combat operations, the law requires you must provide “stressor information” to the VA so they can attempt to verify your exposure to combat stressors. If this is the case, there are some very important things you should know about providing this information. First, the stressor information must be as specific as possible. Specificity means date, place, unit and nature of the stressor must be provided in your statement of the claim to the VA.
The date requires as accurate a date as possible. The date is critical for the VA to research and confirm your exposure to the stressor event. For the purposes of researching your claimed stressor, the VA needs the date to be inside a 60 day window of the actual event.
Next, the place needs to be specific for the same reasons as the date, a researcher will have to verify your exposure to the stressor. An example of too general a location is telling the VA the place, the stressor event occurred, was in the Mekong Delta. This will probably not be enough information to allow the researchers to find any useful information to verify your claimed stressors.
Thirdly, you need to provide your unit at the time of the stressor down to the Company level. Again, the researchers need this information to access the various types of information needed to verify you were exposed to stressors.
Last is the nature of the stressor. Telling the VA your stressor is you “saw dead bodies” is not going to result in the VA being able to verify your stressors. Again, you will need to be specific as to what you experience started your PTSD. Another example of a claim that is too general would be if your claimed stressor is you witnessed a traumatic event in the street while you were on pass in Saigon. The VA will have no way to verify your information unless you can provide the exact place and names of those involved.
Once the VA has established that you have been diagnosed with PTSD and have verified your claimed stressors, they will order an examination to determine the nexus or relationship between your confirmed stressors and your diagnosed PTSD.
If you have been diagnosed with PTSD and will be filing a claim, now is the time to begin thinking about information relating to stressors and the documentation required to prove your exposure to the stressors. In some cases, the stressors were many years ago and remembering the events that caused the stressors is painful. If you didn’t receive one of the awards/decorations confirming combat stressors, providing good, specific stressor information is critical to success in establishing service connection for your PTSD.